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Woman applauds removal of Illinois judge who overturned man’s sexual assault conviction, saying it left her ‘broken’

“Yeah, he blamed everybody else for what happened except for the person who sexually assaulted me, blamed everybody else,” Cameron Vaughan told NBC News of former Judge Robert Adrian.
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The woman at the center of the case in which an Illinois judge overturned the conviction of a man accused of sexual assault says the 2022 decision left her “broken” — and she applauded the judge’s ouster.

In a scathing 33-page ruling released Friday, the Illinois Courts Commission, a state oversight board, removed Adams County Judge Robert Adrian from the bench. 

Adrian sparked outrage two years ago by vacating 18-year-old Drew Clinton’s sexual assault conviction, a charge stemming from a graduation party in May 2021 in Quincy, Illinois, where he was accused of assaulting Cameron Vaughan, then 16.

“I cried. I cried so much,” Vaughan, who goes by "Cammy" and is now 18, told NBC News on Sunday about reading the commission’s ruling. “I was just — it was unbelievable.”

After a three-day bench trial in October 2021, Adrian originally found Clinton guilty of one count of criminal sexual assault, a felony carrying a mandatory minimum sentence of four years in prison.

A few days into 2022, in a stunning move from the bench, Adrian announced that he was reversing himself and letting Clinton walk free. According to court transcripts, Adrian said the defendant’s nearly five months in county jail was “plenty of punishment.”

Adrian said: “By law, the Court is supposed to sentence this young man to the Department of Corrections. This Court will not do that. That is not just. There is no way for what happened in this case that this teenager should go to the Department of Corrections. I will not do that.”

Adrian, who found an 18-year-old man guilty of sexually assaulting a 16-year-old girl, has come under fire after he later threw out the conviction, saying the 148 days the man spent in jail was punishment enough.
Judge Robert Adrian, center, heads into an Illinois Courts Commission hearing in Chicago in November. Stacey Wescott / Chicago Tribune via Getty Images

Vaughan, who had prepared a victim impact statement that she wasn’t allowed to read, said she ran from the courtroom in tears as her father followed. She said the attack had an immediate impact on her life.

“Because what [Clinton] did was not right. I mean, it ruined me,” she said. Vaughan, who now works for an optometrist in Joplin, Missouri, added that Adrian’s reversal compounded the trauma.

“There was no new evidence, nothing new to make him change his mind,” she said. “I was very depressed and on medications for trying to help with my nightmares. And I was just very, very sad.”

In a separate interview Monday, Adrian said he stood by his reversal but clarified his rationale. He said he vacated Clinton’s guilty verdict not to keep him out of prison but because he’d reconsidered the evidence and decided prosecutors had failed to prove their case.

“Why would I want to send a person who’s not guilty to the Department of Correction? Of course, I’ll reverse,” he said. “There’s a lot of judges that wouldn’t. They’d wait and say, ‘Oh, well, if I made the mistake, the appellate court [will] straighten it out.’”

Asked whether he’d do anything differently with 20/20 hindsight, Adrian didn’t waver.

“I’d explain it different,” he said. “But I still wouldn’t send him to the Department of Correction. [Clinton] was not guilty, and that’s the whole key. See, that’s what nobody wants to do. Nobody wants to actually look at the evidence in the case.”

Adams County Judge Robert Adrian during an interview with NBC News on Monday.
Former Adams County Judge Robert Adrian in an interview Monday.NBC News

He added: “I made a mistake, and I corrected the mistake. So now, you know, you want to chastise me for correcting my mistake, go ahead. But I can’t help but people are human. We make mistakes. I correct mine.”

The Courts Commission blasted the new rationale, writing that Adrian "intentionally subverted the law and then lied about it under oath to serve his own interests” and that “we have already concluded that respondent reversed his guilty finding to circumvent the law."

"Nor do we accept respondent’s contention that he made a mistake in finding Clinton guilty," the commission wrote. "Respondent claimed that he began to consider whether he had mistakenly found Clinton guilty immediately after the trial, but then he did nothing for months while Clinton remained in jail.”

Vaughan maintains she was assaulted by Clinton, who she says put a pillow over her face while she slept on a friend’s couch after drinking. Clinton declined to comment for this article. He maintains his innocence through his attorney.

Even though the system didn’t produce her desired result at trial, Vaughan said she considers Adrian’s dismissal another form of justice.

“He hurt me,” she said about Adrian, whose removal was effective immediately. “He changed my life, and nothing happened to him. He needs to see what he did to me, how he made me feel and know that I’m the reason you’re not a judge anymore.”