As the judge in the Stanford rape case learned, along with the judge in the “affluenza” drunken driving case, the whole world is watching them. A crowd, an angry crowd, can form in a matter of days of people outraged by what they consider a lenient sentence for a heinous crime.
In the case of Judge John McKeon, as of early morning Wednesday, almost 20,000 people had signed a Change.org petition calling for his impeachment for the 60-day sentence he gave a Glasgow, Mont., man who pleaded guilty to repeatedly raping his prepubescent daughter.
“A father repeatedly raped his 12-year old daughter,” Valley County Attorney Dylan Jensen said during an Oct. 4 sentencing hearing.
“It’s time to start punishing the judges who let these monsters walk our streets,” read the petition.
Prosecutors had recommended a mandatory 25-year sentence, 100 years with 75 suspended, which is what state law calls for.
Instead, though, Judge McKeon handed down a far lighter sentence: a 30-year suspended prison sentence, which means the man will only serve it if he fails to meet the conditions of his probation.
Among those conditions, which McKeon called “quite rigorous,” was the requirement for the man to register as a sex offender, the Glasgow Courier reported. He also cannot access pornography and has limited access to the Internet.
In addition, the man will serve 60 days in jail, but McKeon gave him credit for the 17 days he already served, meaning he’ll only spend another 43 days in jail.
The Washington Post is not identifying the convicted man as it could expose the identity of his victim.
In most of these controversial cases, the judges under siege tend to remain silent. What makes McKeon’s case unusual is that he has chosen to defend himself in public.
In an email to the Associated Press, McKeon said he had several reasons for handing down the seemingly light sentence.
The judge claimed that news coverage obscured state law by failing to mention an exception to the mandatory 25-year prison sentence. According to McKeon, the law allows those arrested for incest involving someone under 12 years old to avoid prison if a psychosexual evaluation finds that psychiatric treatment “affords a better opportunity for rehabilitation of the offender and for the ultimate protection of the victim and society.”
The judge wrote this is one of Montana’s attempts “to encourage and provide opportunities for an offender’s self-improvement, rehabilitation and reintegration back into a community.”
In the note to the AP, McKeon also referenced letters written to him by the victim’s mother and grandmother. Both letters requested the convicted man not be sentenced to prison.
The victim’s mother, who walked in on the man sexually abusing her daughter, wrote that the man’s two sons love him and she wanted his “children have an opportunity to heal the relationship with their father,” according to McKeon.
The victim’s grandmother echoed this, calling the man’s behavior “horrible” but stating that the man’s children, “especially his sons, will be devastated if their Dad is no longer part of their lives.”
For all these letters defending the convicted man, though, Deputy Valley County Attorney Dylan Jensen told the AP that no one spoke on behalf of the victim, a 12-year-old girl, at Friday’s sentencing hearing.
The petition to impeach McKeon highlighted this fact.
“No one spoke on behalf of the 12 year old child at trial,” it read. “No one. The victim was not given justice, but instead will have to live with the fear that she still has to face her rapist in their community. ”
McKeon’s email concluded, “All district judges take an oath to uphold the Constitution and laws of this state. These constitutional provisions and laws include certain fundamental legal principles that apply at sentencing, including a presumption of innocence for unproved criminal allegations, the varying sentencing policies and the government’s burden to counter evidence supporting an exception to mandatory sentence.”
His defense hasn’t stopped the Change.org petition from wracking up signatures, though it likely won’t matter.
McKeon, who has served as a Montana state judge for 22 years, is retiring next month, according to the Associated Press. Considering that an impeachment in Montana, according to the National Center for State Courts, requires a “two-thirds vote of the house of representatives and [a] convict[ion] by a two-thirds vote of the senate,” the point is fairly moot — there simply isn’t enough time to impeach him.
The organizers of the Change.org petition seem to understand this, though. In the petition, they wrote:
Judge McKeon is retiring very soon and does NOT deserve to collect retirement from the people of Montana. He did not fulfill the duties of the position we elected him for. He acted without respect for the laws of the state of Montana.
He did not take care of us.
He did not do his job.
We should not have to take care of him.
The petition needs to reach 25,000 signatures, at which point it will be delivered to Chief Clerk of the Montana House of Representatives Lindsey Grovom.
Correction: The original version of this story got Judge McKeon’s first name wrong. It’s John, not Robert.
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