Attorneys for former Baylor University fraternity president Jacob Anderson came out swinging Tuesday in response to an uproar over Anderson’s plea bargain, as supporters of his accuser threw barbs at the judge and prosecutor and started a new petition to remove Anderson from a Dallas college a week before he graduates.
Anderson, 23, was placed on deferred probation for three years Monday after 19th State District Judge Ralph Strother approved a plea agreement in which prosecutors dropped four counts of sexual assault and reduced the charge to felony unlawful restraint in exchange for Anderson’s no-contest plea. He will serve no jail time and won’t be required to register as a sex offender.
Strother, a former hard-nosed prosecutor known for his law-and-order conservatism, accepted the plea bargain Monday in spite of the victim’s impassioned pleas that he reject it so she could have her day in court. She angrily recounted, often in graphic detail, her claims that Anderson raped her, choked her and left her unconscious at an off-campus fraternity party in 2016.
The resolution of Anderson’s case this week made national headlines and was featured on news programs across the country. Social media and news websites were flooded with critical comments about the judge and prosecutor Hilary LaBorde, who handled Anderson’s case.
Strother was inundated with emails and phone calls from all over the country from people urging him to reject the plea bargain. The judge said Tuesday afternoon that he instructed his staff to stop answering the phone because of the volume of negative calls to his office.
Kelsey Casto, a 31-year-old senior at the University of Texas at Dallas, said she learned Anderson is attending the same college by reading the Tribune-Herald account of the sentencing hearing. By 5 a.m., she had posted a petition on MoveOn.org that asks university officials to ban Anderson from campus. Anderson, who works for a Dallas real estate development company, is slated to graduate next week with a finance degree.
He was kicked out of Baylor after the sexual assault allegations and the Baylor Phi Delta Theta fraternity was suspended.
Casto’s petition, which had garnered more than 1,500 signatures within 12 hours, says, in part: “The students at UT Dallas have a right to protection from predators like Anderson. He submitted a plea of no contest and was sentenced to deferred probation, and will not be made to register as a sex offender. That being the case, the school has a responsibility to remove him from this new potential hunting ground.”
“This is a hot topic around school today,” Casto said. “If he wasn’t good enough for Baylor, why should he be trusted to be good enough for UTD either? It is very disheartening. Sexual assault is a hot topic on campus now. There is a lot of date rape now, and for it to still be happening and nothing being done about it is very disheartening.”
A spokesman in the UT-Dallas office of communications said only Tuesday that they are aware of the petition to ban Anderson from campus and “we are reviewing the available information.” He declined additional comment.
Anderson and his family, along with attorneys Mark Daniel, Tim Moore and Guy Cox, left the McLennan County Courthouse Monday without making comments to the media. However, Daniel and Moore told the Tribune-Herald Tuesday that after the firestorm the case has created, it was time for them to clarify “what we consider to be a significant misrepresentations by people who appear to know nothing about the facts in this case.”
‘Distortions and misrepresentations’
The attorneys said the woman’s victim-impact statement was “riddled with distortions and misrepresentations.”
“What seems to have been left out of her representation was some passionate kissing, groping and grinding by this girl and Mr. Anderson that occurred in front of more than 100 people at this party,” the attorneys said. “Many witnesses saw them kissing passionately several times during the party.”
The woman’s claims that she was choked is “absolutely contrary” to the physical evidence and her statements to police and medical personnel that night, they said. They also disputed her claim that she was drugged, saying no drugs were found in her system.
“She drank significantly before she ever came to the party, but her blood-alcohol level was barely above intoxication level (0.12) at the hospital,” Daniel said. “She made statements to two separate male students that this may have been consensual. Those boys said she seemed fine, seemed calm and collected immediately afterward as if nothing had happened. She appears in a photograph in the hospital an hour and a half later. She is smiling and eating a cheese cracker with a full grin on her face.”
The attorneys said there was no genetic evidence tying Anderson to the alleged offense and that the woman gave “numerous inconsistent statements to the prosecution.”
“We have the utmost respect for Judge Strother for ascertaining the true and accurate complexion of these accusations and following the state’s carefully prepared recommendation,” Daniel said.
Former McLennan County District Attorney Vic Feazell helped walk the woman and her family through the criminal justice system and referred her to Waco attorney Jim Dunnam for a civil lawsuit against Anderson, the fraternity and owner of the fraternity house. The lawsuit remains pending.
Feazell blistered when he learned of the comments by Daniel and Moore.
“It is easy for them to say all that bulls--- after the fact,” Feazell said. “That is what trials are for. But I am really sorry about any flak Judge Strother is taking. I have known him for 35 years and he is an honorable man. I know he agonized over that decision. It is his decision. He is the guy who wears the black robe. He is the guy who makes the decisions.
“But it is not fair for them to come out with this bulls--- without anybody being able to be cross-examined. If they wanted to cross-examine her, we should have had a trial. I don’t believe that fraternity bulls---. They are all just sticking together,” Feazell said.
Feazell called the photo from the hospital “just one second in time.”
“Why was she at the hospital in the first place if she hadn’t been raped?” he asked. “If they had such a damn good case, let’s go try it.”
In a statement released Monday to select media outlets, McLennan County District Attorney Abel Reyna said his office is known throughout the state for aggressive prosecution of sexual assault cases and to “say otherwise is simply absurd.”
“Let us remind everyone that our oath is to seek justice,” Reyna said in the statement. “In pursuit of that ideal, we must evaluate each case alone on its own merit. Early in this case, law enforcement believed that the victim may have been drugged and this belief has been widely disseminated in the media; however, the evidence did not support that theory. This office stands by the plea offered and believes we have achieved the best result possible with the evidence at hand.”