Whether in the corridors of power or the halls of justice, we in the legitimate news media know that no storyline is ever quite so simple as that bandied about the proverbial water cooler or spread on social media to provoke outrage. Nuance, details and context matter. Certainly, further explanation is warranted regarding the controversial plea bargain arrangement proposed by McLennan County District Attorney Abel Reyna’s office for former Baylor University fraternity president Jacob Walter Anderson, indicted in 2016 on four counts of sexual assault.
Instead of pressing this indictment to trial, Assistant District Attorney Hilary LaBorde allowed Anderson to plead no contest to the lesser charge of unlawful restraint in a deal that Trib staff writer Tommy Witherspoon reports could keep Anderson from going to prison or even registering as a sex offender. We say “could” because the final decision on whether to accept these terms (including deferred probation and required counseling) or to possibly mount a criminal trial rests with District Judge Ralph Strother. And he makes his decision Monday.
We understand the sentiments of concern and indignation behind articulate, respected voices such as Brett Mills, CEO of the nonprofit Jesus Said Love. He speaks for many in pressing Strother to reject the proposed plea deal. We also realize this judge is quite likely dealing with an extensive file prepared in the pre-sentencing phase that may well explain why LaBorde — hardly a shrinking violet in such cases, judging from the 2015 Sam Ukwuachu sexual-assault trial — balked at a trial or sterner plea deal in this particular instance.
We also remind all who would prejudge this case that Strother is a senior, much-respected jurist who can be expected to do what he believes is right when making a decision. And while the McLennan County DA’s office has repeatedly demonstrated low standards in terms of transparency — enough to get Reyna defeated in the 2018 primary election — we also remind one and all that this case is still pending, which may even justify the DA’s silence in discouraging possible victim-bashing. Finally, it’s worth noting not all people convicted of sexual assault go to prison. Many end up on probation. Each case has its own context and set of extenuating considerations. Let’s remember this before rushing to judgment.