The California judge criticized for handing down what many saw as a too-light sentence for a former Stanford student convicted of sexual assault has received threats against him and his family, an official familiar with the calls said.
The judge, Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Aaron Persky, on Thursday sentenced 20-year-old Brock Turner to six months in prison and three years’ probation for raping an unconscious woman outside a frat party last year. He will also have to register as a sex offender for life.
Since the sentence and the resulting furor online and elsewhere, “more than a handful” of anonymous callers have phoned court staff with insulting or threatening messages, said Gary Goodman, a deputy public defender with the county.
“A lot of them are extremely rude and are just horrible and horrific … I hope you die and your family gets raped, things of that nature,” Goodman said. “You’ve got to be out of your mind to talk that way.”
An FBI official said the agency was aware of the calls but had no immediate comment Tuesday. Any investigation would likely begin at the state and local level, law enforcement officials said.
A spokesperson for the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office had no immediate comment.
The sentence in the Brock case inspired a wave of criticism online, and a petition to recall Persky had more than 480,000 signatures as of Tuesday night. The petition has no effect, but a separate recall effort is also underway.
The victim in the case, only identified as “Emily Doe,” wrote a moving letter in which she addressed her attacker: “My independence, natural joy, gentleness, and steady lifestyle I had been enjoying became distorted beyond recognition. I became closed off, angry, self-deprecating, tired, irritable, empty.”
“While you worry about your shattered reputation, I refrigerated spoons every night so when I woke up, and my eyes were puffy from crying, I would hold the spoons to my eyes to lessen the swelling so that I could see,” she wrote.
Outrage was further stoked when a letter of support from Turner’s father that referred to the sexual assault as “20 minutes of action” was posted online. The father, Dan Turner, later said he chose his words poorly.
District Attorney Jeff Rosen said Brock should have gotten more prison time and said “the punishment does not fit the crime.”
But Rosen said Monday he does not believe the judge should be removed.
Turner was convicted in March of three felonies related to the sexual assault. He could have been sentenced to more than a dozen years in prison.
Turner was a star swimmer at Stanford and was once an Olympic hopeful. Some critics have suggested that Persky’s background as a student athlete at Stanford may have led to his leniency in the case.
Goodman, who had no involvement in the Turner case, defended Persky as a “lovely, well-thought, excellent jurist” who followed sentencing rules.
“Judges cannot be afraid to do what they feel is just because of fears of threats to themselves and their families,” Goodman said. “We cannot have that. That is not who we are as a country.”