Brock Turner with inset of Judge Aaron Persky 1
Judge in Stanford rape case faces backlash
02:15 - Source: CNN

Story highlights

Judge Aaron Persky's sentence for ex-Stanford student sparked outrage

Prosecutor requests judge's removal from an unrelated sexual assault case

CNN  — 

A California judge who sentenced former Stanford University swimmer Brock Turner to six months in jail for sexually assaulting an unconscious woman has been removed as a possible judge on an unrelated sexual assault case.

Judge Aaron Persky of Santa Clara Superior Court sparked outrage this month over his sentence for Turner.

The fallout continued Tuesday when the Santa Clara County district attorney removed Persky from a different sexual assault case.

“After … the recent turn of events, we lack confidence that Judge Persky can fairly participate in this upcoming hearing in which a male nurse sexually assaulted an anesthetized female patient,” District Attorney Jeff Rosen said.

Twenty jurors refused to serve in Persky’s courtroom Wednesday, citing the judge as a hardship, according to CNN affiliate KPIX-TV in San Francisco.

A prosecutor and the defense can opt to request another judge if they see fit. In such instances, a case is reassigned to a different judge.

In California, prosecutors or defense attorneys can “paper” a judge repeatedly on any case if they choose, said David LaBahn, president and CEO of the Association of Prosecuting Attorneys. It’s possible that the attorney general could seek the judge’s removal on future cases.

“This is a rare and carefully considered step for our office,” Rosen said. “In the future, we will evaluate each case on its own merits and decide if we should use our legal right to ask for another judge in order to protect public safety and pursue justice.”

Persky’s critics are not limited to the courtroom.

Since his ruling in the Turner case, an online petition to remove him from the bench has attracted more than 1.2 million supporters. But removing a judge in California requires the support of the voters in his or her district.

Deputy DA: Persky made another unusual move

Persky’s removal followed his dismissal of a jury in a misdemeanor theft case, said Jim Leonard, a Santa Clara supervising deputy district attorney.

This week, Persky was presiding over a jury trial in a misdemeanor stolen property case. The defendant was a passenger in a stolen car, Leonard said, when it was pulled over.

In her purse, police found two pieces of stolen mail, including promotional credit card checks, the deputy district attorney said. The mail had the name and address of two victims. Both testified they did not know the defendant, and one said that he had had trouble with packages and other items missing from his mailbox, Leonard said.

The defense brought a routine motion that basically asked whether a jury could deduce that there was evidence to support each element of the charges.

“The judge said, ‘Yes I don’t think a jury could conclude this is stolen property,’” Leonard said. “In the last 175 jury trials we’ve done on my team, this has only been granted twice, including this case. It’s virtually never granted.”

Persky dismissed the jury, he said.

“We were perplexed when he took this case away from the jury,” Leonard said, adding that the only other time this defense motion has been granted was in a vandalism case in which a judge dismissed only one aspect of the case – whether a “criminal threat” was present.

Under California penal code, Leonard cannot appeal Persky’s ruling.

Sentence in Brock Turner case

In the Turner sexual assault case, the 20-year-old was convicted in March of assault with intent to commit rape of an intoxicated or unconscious person, penetration of an intoxicated person and penetration of an unconscious person.

Though he could have received a maximum of 14 years in prison, prosecutors asked the judge to give Turner six years behind bars.

In California, judges are allowed wide discretion in sentencing.

On June 2, Persky chose to sentence Turner to six months in jail, followed by probation. Under the terms of his conviction, Turner must also register as a sex offender.

The assault

On January 18, 2015, law enforcement officers responded to a report of an unconscious female near a fraternity house, according to a sentencing memo.

At about 1 a.m. they found the victim on the ground in a fetal position behind a garbage bin. She was breathing but unresponsive. Her dress was pulled up to her waist. Her underwear was on the ground; her hair disheveled and covered with pine needles.

About 25 yards away, two passers-by had pinned down and restrained Turner.

“We found him on top of the girl!” one of the men said. Turner smelled of alcohol as he was handcuffed.

The letters

Letters written by the victim and the attacker’s father added to the fury over Turner’s sentencing.

In a 12-page victim impact statement addressed to Turner, the woman gave a harrowing description of her ordeal. The letter was widely shared online.

The victim implored Persky not to be lenient.

“My life has been on hold for over a year, a year of anger, anguish and uncertainty, until a jury of my peers rendered a judgment that validated the injustices I had endured,” she wrote.

She told of going to a fraternity party near Stanford and drinking and then not knowing what happened to her between the time of the party and being conscious in a hospital with pine needles in her hair. She described the traumatic and humiliating experience of enduring an hours-long forensic exam for sexual assault

“I had multiple swabs inserted into my vagina and anus, needles for shots, pills, had a Nikon pointed right into my spread legs. I had long, pointed beaks inside me and had my vagina smeared with cold, blue paint to check for abrasions.

“After a few hours of this, they let me shower. I stood there examining my body beneath the stream of water and decided, I don’t want my body anymore. I was terrified of it, I didn’t know what had been in it, if it had been contaminated, who had touched it. I wanted to take off my body like a jacket and leave it at the hospital with everything else.”

Before sentencing, the attacker’s father, Dan Turner, pleaded with the judge to go easy on his son.

He wrote that his son should not have to go to prison for “20 minutes of action.”

That phrasing and much of Dan Turner’s letter sparked outrage across social media.

The father then tried to clarify what he meant. “I was not referring to sexual activity by the word ‘action,’ ” he said in a statement released by his son’s attorney.

Since Turner was sentenced to less than a year, he is being held in the Santa Clara County Jail in San Jose.

He is in protective custody with 1,100 others. Inmates convicted of sexual assault are held in protective custody to prevent other detainees from attacking them.