On Friday, a judicial oversight organization said that a Utah judge is being slammed and criticized for calling a former Mormon bishop convicted and sentenced of rape in his court an “extraordinarily good man” who had committed certain illegal sexual acts that were wrong. Judge Thomas Low was initially criticized around the time he released the former Mormon bishop, Keith Robert Vallejo, from custody, after a jury had found he was guilty of not only one count of object rape, but also of committing 10 counts of sexual abuse by force.
The Washington Post reported that the executive director of the Utah Judicial Performance Evaluation Commission, Jennifer Yim, said most of the complaints about what Judge Low said came after Judge Low sentenced the defendant to up to life in prison. The judge seemed “to get emotional during the hearing,” expressing sympathy for Vallejo.
According to the New York Daily News, one of Vallejo’s victims, Julia Kirby, 23, on Friday she said, the “judge didn’t care about me.” She accused the judge as caring more about her alleged abuser than herself, stating, “I think that is really kind of despicable.”
Kirby said in 2013, when she was 19, Vallejo, who is a relative, groped her a number of times during the time she attended Brigham Young University and was staying at his house. She agreed to have her name published, according to the newspaper in an effort to prove to the judge she was not going to let him get away with his comments.
The prosecutor, Ryan McBride said he believed he knew why Judge Low made the comment about Vallejo being an “extraordinarily good man,” but he thought the comments “were inappropriate.” He referred to more than 50 letters talking about Vallejo’s character, most of which detailed the good things he has done, as well as Vallejo’s brother speaking at the hearing, comparing “Vallejo to Jesus.” He said, according to McBride, that they were similar in that his brother “was wrongly convicted.”
McBride said he did not think it was inappropriate to point out the good things someone had done in their life. However, he added that the judge should have followed up what he said with a comment like, but that does not excuse what they have done.
During his sentencing hearing, the defendant briefly commented that he believed “the justice system bullies people into confessing.” He then stated, “I maintain my innocence.”
The Los Angeles Times reported that the crimes Vallejo was sentenced of took place in Provo, Utah, which “is home to Brigham Young University.” Judge Low attended the university, though it has not been reported if he is, himself, a Mormon.
In Utah on Friday, during the sentencing hearing for a former Mormon bishop convicted of rape, Judge Thomas Low was slammed when he called the defendant an “extraordinarily good man.” Advocates for victims of sexual assault were outraged by Judge Low’s comments about Vallejo during the defendant’s sentencing hearing. Turner Bitton, executive director of the Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault, said that Low’s comment sends a signal to survivors of sexual violence that if they choose to speak up and disclose what happened to them, that their perpetrator is still going to be looked upon as if they are a good person.
By John Samuels
Photo Courtesy Utah Courts