Saturday 18 November 2017

Outrage after judge calls rapist ex-Mormon bishop 'an extraordinarily good man'

Former Mormon bishop Keith Vallejo was described by a judge as an extraordinarily good man, as he he sentenced him to up to life in prison (Utah County Sheriff's Office/AP)
Former Mormon bishop Keith Vallejo was described by a judge as an extraordinarily good man, as he he sentenced him to up to life in prison (Utah County Sheriff's Office/AP)

A Utah judge is facing a deluge of complaints after calling a former Mormon bishop convicted of rape an "extraordinarily good man" who did something wrong.

The criticism began last month when Judge Thomas Low let Keith Vallejo out of custody after a jury found him guilty of 10 counts of forcible sexual abuse and one count of object rape, said Jennifer Yim, executive director of the Utah Judicial Performance Evaluation Commission.

But she said most of the roughly 40 emails, six voicemails and some Facebook messages came after Judge Low sentenced Vallejo to up to life in prison on Wednesday and seemed to get emotional during the hearing.

"The court has no doubt that Mr Vallejo is an extraordinarily good man," he said during the sentencing. "But great men sometimes do bad things."

Julia Kirby, 23, one of Vallejo's victims, said she was shocked by the judge's sympathy.

"That judge didn't care about me," she said on Friday. "He only cared about the person he was convicting, and I think that is really kind of despicable."

She agreed to have her name published to show the judge that she will not let him get away with these comments.

Ms Kirby said she was 19 when Vallejo, a relative, groped her multiple times when she stayed at his house while attending Brigham Young University in 2013.

Judge Low's comments sparked outrage from advocates for sexual assault victims.

"The signal that it sends to sexual violence survivors is that if you choose to disclose, that we're still going to treat your perpetrator as if they're a good person," said Turner Bitton, executive director of the Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault.

Ryan McBride, the prosecutor on the case, said Judge Low's comments were inappropriate and that they may have come in response to more than 50 character letters about Vallejo, most of them detailing the good things he has done.

The defendant's brother spoke at the hearing and compared Vallejo to Jesus in making the argument that he was wrongly convicted, Mr McBride said.

"I don't think it's wrong to acknowledge the good things that someone has done in their lives," the prosecutor said.

"But I think whenever you do that in a case like this, you've also got to say, 'But it doesn't excuse what you've done'. "

Jude Low declined to comment.

"I maintain my innocence," Vallejo said during the hearing after a brief comment on how the justice system bullies people into confessing.

The abuse occurred in Provo, a Mormon stronghold that is home to Brigham Young University.

Judge Low attended the school, where almost all students are Mormon, but it is not clear whether he is a member of the faith.

There was no indication that the judge had any prior relationship with Vallejo, Mr McBride said. Judge Low would have to disclose something like that, he said.

In the faith, bishops are regular church members who lead their congregations for four to five years. The position is unpaid and part of the religion's lay clergy structure that makes it different from many other religions.

AP

Press Association

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