AUSTIN (KXAN) — Tens of thousands of people are now calling for Judge Ralph Strother’s resignation or removal after he accepted a plea deal that gave no jail time to a former Baylor University student who was accused of rape.
Earlier this week, Judge Strother, the 19th District Court Judge in Waco, accepted the deal, under which 24-year-old Jacob Anderson pleaded no contest to unlawful restraint and was sentenced to three years of probation. Anderson will also have to pay a $400 fine and seek counseling.
The petition calling for Strother’s resignation was started by a Baylor alumna who now lives in Austin.
“I see the actions in this case as having a chilling effect overall,” Sarah Byers said.
Byers said she graduated from Baylor two years ago. She told KXAN she didn’t know the alleged victim, but she applauds her bravery.
“Often times, women will feel afraid to report because they will face hatred or the wrath of an entire fraternity group,” Byers said.
The petition she launched had more than 37,000 signatures by Friday evening. About 4,000 signers identified as Texas residents.
Byers said the message from the plea deal was loud and clear.
“It really adds to a sense for women that these kinds of issues aren’t being taken seriously,” she said. “How does it make sense that we can admit yes, he restrained the victim illegally, but we’re going to turn a head to the other things he did while he was restraining her?”
Anderson’s plea deal appears to be at least the third time Strother has given probation to men who were accused of sexually assaulting Baylor students.
Last year, a man received deferred probation from him after pleading guilty to rape. The man was also told to pay for the woman’s counseling as well.
Earlier this year, a different man was sentenced to felony probation for sexual assault. His 30 day jail sentence could be served on the weekends.
“I’m hoping that this case in Waco, TX will serve as a catalyst,” Byers said. However, the petition itself can’t cause Judge Strother to lose his job.
In Texas, that would require a move by the State Commission on Judicial Conduct or the state legislature. District court judges can also be removed by the supreme court.
Byers hopes legislators will see her petition and see that they have the power to take action.
“I would like to see an environment where what is given more precedents and importance would be considerations of the women’s safety,” she said.
Judge Strother could not be reached Friday.
He is listed as one of Baylor University’s prominent alumni on the school’s website. He was appointed to serve as a district judge in 1999. If he runs for re-election, his name will come up on the 2020 ballot for the 19th District.
Read the statement from Anderson’s attorneys’ below.