Public outrage over the lenient sentencing of a star Stanford swimmer convicted of sexual assault has been compounded by a controversial letter written by the athlete’s father.
Brock Turner was convicted in March of sexually assaulting an unconscious woman at a fraternity party in January 2015 at the elite university. He faced up to 14 years in prison. Prosecutors asked for six.
Instead, Turner received only six months in jail and three years of probation after a judge worried that a stiffer sentence would have a “severe impact” on the 20-year-old.
The light sentence drew harsh criticism from prosecutors and advocates and prompted widespread fury on social media.
“His life will never be the one that he dreamed about and worked so hard to achieve,” Dan A. Turner wrote in a letter arguing that his son should receive probation, not jail time. “That is a steep price to pay for 20 minutes of action out of his 20 plus years of life.”
“He will never be his happy go lucky self with that easy going personality and welcoming smile,” the letter says, noting that the former Olympic hopeful is now a registered sex offender.
In an interview with The Washington Post early Monday morning, Santa Clara District Attorney Jeff Rosen confirmed that the letter had been submitted to the court before Turner’s sentencing last week and criticized the letter for reducing a brutal sexual assault to “20 minutes of action.” He also slammed Turner and his father for refusing to own up to the crime.
“To this day, the defendant denies what he did,” Rosen said, adding that Turner “preyed upon” his victim and displayed violence.
Brock Turner’s attorney did not return The Post’s request for comment regarding Dan Turner’s letter.
The controversial letter emerged three days after prosecutors released another letter, this one written by the victim, who has not been named.
The two letters stand in stark contrast. While Dan Turner’s has been described as myopic, the victim’s has been called powerful and moving.
The victim’s letter begins by bluntly addressing her attacker.
“You don’t know me, but you’ve been inside me, and that’s why we’re here today,” she read in court. She then described how she decided to attend a party so she could spend time with her younger sister.
“I made silly faces, let my guard down, and drank liquor too fast not factoring in that my tolerance had significantly lowered since college,” she said. “The next thing I remember I was in a gurney in a hallway. I had dried blood and bandages on the backs of my hands and elbow. I thought maybe I had fallen and was in an admin office on campus. I was very calm and wondering where my sister was. A deputy explained I had been assaulted. I still remained calm, assured he was speaking to the wrong person. I knew no one at this party. When I was finally allowed to use the restroom, I pulled down the hospital pants they had given me, went to pull down my underwear, and felt nothing.”
She described in painful detail how the hospital staff documented her assault with probes and swabs, “shots, pills, had a nikon pointed right into my spread legs. …
“I wanted to take off my body like a jacket and leave it at the hospital with everything else.”
She described Turner as a predator picking off “the wounded antelope of the herd, completely alone and vulnerable, physically unable to fend for myself. …”
She added: “Sometimes I think, if I hadn’t gone, then this never would’ve happened. But then I realized, it would have happened, just to somebody else. You were about to enter four years of access to drunk girls and parties, and if this is the foot you started off on, then it is right you did not continue.”
“You do not get to shrug your shoulders and be confused anymore,” she said of his conviction. “You have been convicted of violating me with malicious intent, and all you can admit to is consuming alcohol. Do not talk about the sad way your life was upturned because alcohol made you do bad things.”
And yet, that is essentially the tone of Turner’s father’s letter.
Dan Turner’s letter begins with brisk reference to the sexual assault.
“First of all, let me say that Brock is absolutely devastated by the events of January 17th and 18th 2015,” it says. “He would do anything to turn back the hands of time and have that night to do over again. In many one-on-one conversations with Brock since that day, I can tell you that he is truly sorry for what occurred that night and for all the pain and suffering that it has caused for all those involved and impacted by that night. He has expressed true remorse for his actions on that night.”
Rosen said, however, that Brock Turner never accepted responsibility for the assault. Had he done so, prosecutors probably would have agreed to a sentence of less than six years.
Dan Turner’s letter then launches into a description of his son’s “easygoing personality” and the “inner strength” that made him such a good swimmer.
Dan Turner said he and his son were “totally in awe” of Stanford’s campus, and noted with pride the school’s 4 percent acceptance rate.
Turner then described his son not as a sexual predator, but as a victim.
“He excelled in school that quarter earning the top GPA for all freshmen on the swim team,” the father wrote in his letter. “What we didn’t realize was the extent to which Brock was struggling being so far from home. … When Brock was home during the Christmas break, he broke down and told us how much he was struggling to fit in socially.
“In hindsight, it’s clear that Brock was desperately trying to fit in at Stanford and fell into the culture of alcohol consumption and partying,” Dan Turner concluded. “This culture was modeled by many of the upperclassmen on the swim team and played a role in the events of Jan 17th and 18th 2015.”
During the trial, prosecutors had argued that Brock Turner was part of a bigger problem.
“He may not look like a rapist, but he is the … face of campus sexual assault,” Deputy District Attorney Alaleh Kianerci told the jury, according to the San Jose Mercury News.
In his letter to the judge, however, Dan Turner appeared to be flipping this script, using the pervasiveness of the problem as a shield to hide his son’s personal responsibility.
The Internet was not having it.
Prompting particular social media outrage was the way Dan Turner portrayed his son’s suffering.
“His every waking minute is consumed with worry, anxiety, fear, and depression,” the father wrote. “You can see this in his face, the way he walks, his weakened voice, his lack of appetite. Brock always enjoyed certain types of food and is a very good cook himself. I was always excited to buy him a big ribeye steak to grill or to get his favorite steak for him. … Now he barely consumes any food and eats only to exist.”
Others also focused on the almost flippant reference to “20 minutes of action.”
The letter, which was first published by liberal website ThinkProgess, makes no explicit reference to Brock Turner’s victim, meanwhile.
Despite what critics called its tone-deafness, however, the letter apparently worked.
Judge Aaron Persky agreed with probation officials’ recommendation that Turner receive only six months in jail.
“A prison sentence would have a severe impact on him. … I think he will not be a danger to others,” the judge said, citing Turner’s youth and lack of criminal record, the Guardian reported.
That ruling has also made Persky a target of public ire. In the days since his decision, a Change.org petition calling for his removal has gathered almost 12,000 signatures. The petition also called for someone to challenge Persky in an upcoming election, in which he is currently unopposed.
Rosen said he was disappointed that Persky did not sentence Turner to more time.
At the same time, the prosecutor said he saw a silver lining in how the case and Turner’s lenient sentence had “led to a frank discussion about how to prevent campus sexual assault and what those campuses should do when it happens.
“Honestly, what has helped to create such national attention in this case is the eloquence of the victim,” he added. “Never in my 20 years as a prosecutor have I seen a more eloquent victim statement.”
Rosen said her letter had done more than just tell her tale. It had “come to represent the truth of thousands of sexual assault victims have experienced as well.”
Indeed, her letter slammed Brock Turner for his solipsism.
“You said, I want to show people that one night of drinking can ruin a life,” she wrote.
“Ruin a life, one life, yours, you forgot about mine. Let me rephrase for you, I want to show people that one night of drinking can ruin two lives. You and me. You are the cause, I am the effect. …
“You have dragged me through this hell with you, dipped me back into that night again and again. You knocked down both our towers, I collapsed at the same time you did. Your damage was concrete; stripped of titles, degrees, enrollment. My damage was internal, unseen, I carry it with me. You took away my worth, my privacy, my energy, my time, my safety, my intimacy, my confidence, my own voice, until today.”