Austin James Wilkerson, a 22-year-old University of Colorado student, was convicted of raping a drunk woman. But he'll be released on probation after District Judge Patrick Butler said he "struggled, to be quite frank, with the idea" of imprisoning him.
Supporters of Wilkerson, as in the California case of Turner, appealed for leniency. Wilkerson’s friends and family said the crime was a “traumatic incident” for him.
Prosecutors had sought a custodial sentence for the felony sexual assault charge, but Butler worried about "the kind of treatment" Wilkerson would receive in the prison system. Instead, Wilkerson will spend two years in Boulder County Jail on a program that allows him to leave during the day, and 20 years on probation.
"I don't know that there is any great result for anybody," Butler said. "Mr. Wilkerson deserves to be punished, but I think we all need to find out whether he truly can or cannot be rehabilitated."
The victim, who was present at the hearing but left before the defense addressed the court, asked Butler to send Wilkerson to prison.
"Have as much mercy for the rapist as he did for me that night," she told the judge.
The victim consumed alcohol on March 15, 2014; Wilkerson told her friends he would "make sure she was safe," then "isolated" and raped her, according to prosecutors.
Wilkerson admitted to investigators he’d made advances to the victim that night, “but that she rebuffed him each time, and that he felt ‘pissed off’ and called her a ‘fucking bitch,’” according to court documents.At his trial, his behavior was such that both Deputy District Attorney Caryn Datz and the judge used the same language to describe it: "entitled."
"Whether or not family and friends see that on a consistent daily basis, it's what I've at least noticed to be the theme of what I've been seeing and hearing," Butler said. "I do have some great concerns over, as I would describe it as, ways he tried to play the system."
But neither that—nor the victim's impassioned statement—was enough to convince the court that the rape deserved serious punishment. Butler did, however, say he admired her courage: "That kind of strength is really admirable. Without ever forgetting this happened, I hope she is able to find hope for the future."
Wilkerson's case echoes that of Stanford University rapist Brock Turner, who raped an unconscious woman behind a dumpster only to receive a light jail sentence after a trial marked by observations, both in and out of court, of the suspect's privileged and entitled behavior. As then, the sheriff's department refused to release their booking mugshot (above) until after his sentencing.