No prison for CU Boulder student convicted of rape

Advocacy groups say the sentence is too lenient

BOULDER, Colo. -- Is the punishment too light? A judge sentenced Austin Wilkerson to two years of work release in the Boulder County jail and 20 years to life probation following a rape conviction.

When Austin Wilkerson apologized to his victim in court Wednesday, prosecutors said it was just another ploy for leniency.

"He definitely, in our opinion, and as we argued to the court throughout the process, has given whatever version of the story is best going to serve him," said Lisa Saccomano, one of the Boulder County Deputy District attorneys who prosecuted the case. "We’re obviously disappointed by the sentence that was imposed."

Prosecutors said Wilkerson told friends he would take care of a woman who had had too much to drink at a Saint Patrick's Day party.

But instead, court records state he sexually assaulted her, telling friends she was "passed out" then later claiming in court that it was consensual.

"Throughout the trial there was a real staunch denial in any taking of responsibility in fact it was quite the contrary," Caryn Datz, another Boulder County Deputy District Attorney who prosecuted the case.

While the prosecutors asked for prison time, Judge Patrick Butler handed down a lighter sentence: two years in county jail with the opportunity to leave for work or school and 20 years to life probation.

Wilkerson's defense did not respond to requests for comment, but Dan Recht, a criminal defense attorney in Denver said that the judge granted probation based on the recommendation of the probation department.

"You can't just throw a person in prison and throw away the key. There has to be a rehabilitation component," said Recht.

Still, women's advocacy groups argue the punishment sends the message that rape does not deserve a serious punishment.

"It did not feel like the punishment fit the crime in this case," said Janine D'Anniballe with Moving to End Sexual Assault, who was disappointed at the sentence, but not surprised in light of other recent high-profile rape cases with lenient sentences such as the Stanford swimmer who was only sentenced to six months in prison. "In this case, we have kind of come to accept that light sentences in these kind of crimes are the norm."

Still, they hope the case raises awareness about what prosecutors called an "epidemic of sexual violence," pointing to a recent survey that showed 28 percent of female students at CU Boulder had been sexually assaulted.

"It’s more than time for us to be paying attention to this as a community and really demanding the right outcomes at sentencing at these types of crimes," said Datz.

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