A California judge who has faced withering criticism for giving a lenient sentence to former Stanford University swimmer Brock Turner in a sex assault case has been removed from another sex case. Santa Clara County District Attorney Jeff Rosen blocked the transfer of the new sexual assault case to Judge Aaron Persky, who is the subject of a recall petition, several media outlets reported Tuesday.
Persky was briefly transferred a case to decide whether a former San Jose nurse should stand trial on charges he sexually assaulted a patient while she was sedated.
In criminal cases, each side is allowed one motion to remove a judge from a case and have it assigned to another judge.
The move comes days after several potential jurors told the judge they couldn’t serve on a jury in his courtroom because of the Turner sentence. Persky was bumped from the new sexual assault case a day after he tossed out an unrelated misdemeanor theft trial before it went to a jury, ruling prosecutors hadn’t proved their case.
“We are disappointed and puzzled at Judge Persky’s unusual decision to unilaterally dismiss a case before the jury could deliberate,” the district attorney said in a prepared statement. “After this and 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.”
Turner was a three-time all-American high school swimmer and 2014 graduate of an Ohio high school who came to the prestigious Stanford with Olympic aspirations. He was found guilty in March of three counts of sexual assault for an attack on an unconscious woman in January 2015 outside a fraternity party at the Palo Alto school. He was arrested after two graduate students on bicycles rode up as the assault was taking place near a dumpster, tackled Turner when he tried to flee and held him until police arrived.
Prosecutors sought six years for Turner, while the defense sought a four-month sentence. Probation officials suggested six months. Persky cited Turner’s age, the fact that he was intoxicated and intense media scrutiny of the case for his decision to impose a lighter sentence of six months in a county jail and three years of probation.
On Monday, the Palo Alto Weekly published a letter from a juror who helped convict Turner in the sex assault case. In the letter, which the juror sent to Persky over the weekend, the man said he was “absolutely shocked and appalled” by the former swimmer’s sentence. The juror, who requested anonymity to protect his privacy, said he didn’t believe Turner’s contention the woman consented to the encounter. And he gave a stinging rebuke to Persky:
“After the guilty verdict I expected that this case would serve as a very strong deterrent to on-campus assaults, but with the ridiculously lenient sentence that Brock Turner received, I am afraid that it makes a mockery of the whole trial and the ability of the justice system to protect victims of assault and rape,” the juror wrote. “Clearly there are few to no consequences for a rapist even if they are caught in the act of assaulting a defenseless, unconscious person.”
The case has been in a global spotlight since last week when a riveting, 12-page impact statement from Turner’s 23-year-old victim was made public. “You don’t know me, but you’ve been inside me, and that’s why we’re here today,” the woman told Turner in court as she read portions of her statement.
A letter from Turner’s father in which he appealed for leniency for his son was also made public last week and triggered outrage. Jail time was “a steep price to pay for 20 minutes of action out of his 20 plus years of life,” Dan Turner wrote in asking for probation for his son.
A recall petition against Persky at Change.org had 1.2 million signatures Tuesday.