Lack of jail time for rapist draws ire
(CNN) – An Alabama judge this week gave a convicted rapist a sentence in which he could avoid jail time altogether, a move that shocked the victim and the defense.
“I’m still baffled,” the victim, Courtney Andrews, told CNN. She came forward publicly to express her outrage over Wednesday’s sentencing. “I don’t know how any of this is possible.”
The defense for Austin Clem, 25, was also caught off guard at first.
“Frankly, I think the judge’s sentence was surprising to most everyone in the courtroom,” said Clem’s attorney, Dan Totten.
Clem was convicted of one count of forcible rape and two counts of second-degree rape, attacks that occurred when Andrews was a minor.
Limestone County Judge James Woodroof handed down jail terms of 20 years for the forcible rape and 10 years each for the second-degree rape charges, to run concurrently, but he suspended those sentences. Instead, he opted for three community corrections sentences of two years plus three years of supervised probation, to be carried out concurrently. Clem must register as a sex offender, but if he follows all the guidelines, he will stay out of prison.
Beyond expressing surprise at the judge’s actions, both sides found little else about which to agree.
“Honestly, I didn’t understand when I first heard the sentence,” said Andrews, now 20. “I was expecting him to spend a long time in prison.”
She spoke of abuse that started when she was 13, saying she kept quiet for years because of threats.
“I was hurt for a long time,” she said. “I had to grow up at a very, very young age, and I know what it’s like to have your life threatened and that no one will understand me.”
Woodroof did not return CNN’s calls Friday to explain his ruling.
Clem’s attorney said he also thinks the sentence was inadequate but for a totally different reason. He said he feels it is too harsh.
“This is a case with two sides to the coin,” Totten said. “There are two sides. The evidence was not clear and convincing.”
The lawyer says Clem is considering an appeal on the conviction. He has 30 days from the sentencing to do so.
As the sentence stands, the requirements for community corrections are so stringent that they are in effect a form of house arrest, Totten said.
“It sets a bar so high, I don’t know of a lot of people who could abide by these limitations,” he said.
According to Clem’s attorney, the relationship should not have happened because Clem was married and Andrews was a minor, but it was consensual.
Andrews was good friends with Clem’s wife and kept going to his house even after the initial attacks, Totten said.
“It doesn’t appear from her actions that she was saying ‘no,’ ” he said.
Andrews won’t hear any of that. At that young age, she could not legally consent to anything.
She stayed in Clem’s life, she said, because she was manipulated and threatened.
At first, he told her it was OK, but that she couldn’t tell anyone. Later, she said, it turned into threats on her life.
“What am I supposed to do?” she asked. “It takes everything I have to not just hate him.”
Andrews said she is in shock.
“I have absolutely no idea how he got this sentence,” she said.
CNN’s Mariano Castillo and John Newsome contributed to this report.
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