An Illinois judge’s decision to reverse the sexual assault conviction of an 18-year-old at his sentencing hearing, saying the 148 days he’s spent behind bars is enough punishment, has drawn anger and outrage.
Adams County Judge Robert Adrian found Drew Clinton, 18, guilty of one count of criminal sexual assault at a bench trial in October. The charge carries a mandatory minimum sentence of four years in prison.
The accuser, Cameron Vaughan, 16, identified herself to NBC affiliate WGEM of Quincy, Illinois, alleging Clinton sexually assaulted her at a graduation party on May 30.
In a stunning reversal, Adrian announced at Clinton’s Jan. 3 sentencing hearing that he would not send the teen to jail and would change the verdict.
“Mr. Clinton has served almost five months in the county jail, 148 days. For what happened in this case, that is plenty of punishment,” he said, according to a transcript of the proceedings obtained by the Herald-Whig, a newspaper in Quincy.
He noted that Clinton had just turned 18 two weeks prior to the incident and had no prior criminal record.
“By law, the court is supposed to sentence this young man to the Department of Corrections. This Court will not do that,” he said.
Instead, he said that court will find that “the People failed to prove their case” on the count he was found guilty of.
“The court is going to reconsider its verdict, is going to find the Defendant not guilty on Count 3. And, therefore, the case — the Defendant will be released from custody,” Adrian said.
The decision came after Clinton’s defense attorney, Andrew C. Schnack III, presented two post-trial motions asking the mandatory sentencing provisions be declared unconstitutional and asking for a not guilty judgment, according to the transcript.
The accuser told WGEM she ran out of the courtroom to cry in the bathroom upon hearing the decision.
Vaughan recounted the alleged assault to the outlet, saying she "woke up at my friend’s place with a pillow over my face so I couldn’t be heard and Drew Clinton inside of me.”
“I asked him to stop multiple times and he wouldn’t. I finally got off the couch and pushed him off of me and he jumped up and just started playing video games as if nothing had happened,” she added.
During the hearing, Adrian also rebuked the parents at the party where the alleged assault unfolded for letting minors drink and swim in the pool in their underwear, according to the transcript.
Assistant State’s Attorney Anita Rodriguez said she was shocked by the decision, adding she hasn’t seen a decision like this in her 40-year career.
“My heart is bleeding for the victim,” Rodriguez told the Herald-Whig. “It was a very difficult bench trial. It did a lot for her healing process, but now she’s back to where we were at.”
Schnack said post-trial motions, like the one Adrian granted, are routinely filed.
“Most of the time, but not all the time, they are denied. This is one of the times where the motion was granted and that’s what’s got everybody in an uproar,” he said Thursday to NBC News.
Schnack added: "Adrian is a damn good judge. I know he’s being accused of harming this victim or keeping her from recovering, but he granted five motions that the state filed. He protected the girl with his rulings as much as he possibly could."
He maintained that his client should have been found not guilty on all three counts of sexual assault at the bench trial, in which he was found not guilty on two counts and guilty on one count.
The Quincy Area Network Against Domestic Abuse said in a statement it is “outraged” over the decision.
“The verdict and Adrian’s comments send a chilling message to other rape victims that their behavior, not the rapists’, will be judged. Shame the victims, free the rapists,” the statement said. “This judgment reinforces the fact that standards for women have always been impossibly high while they are impossibly low for men.”