Skip to navigationSkip to content
LIGHT TOUCH

A college rapist avoided a prison sentence because of his “impressive acceptance of responsibility”

AP Photo/Brennan Linsley
James Wilkerson is no longer a student.
  • Hanna Kozlowska
By Hanna Kozlowska

Investigative reporter

This article is more than 2 years old.

Former University of Colorado student Austin James Wilkerson was convicted of raping a “helpless,” intoxicated young woman at a college party, but will not serve a prison sentence, a judge ruled Wednesday, in a case that the prosecutors said was a “five-day display of arrogance, entitlement, privilege and blatant disregard for the role of law.”

There is a growing perception that white, privileged campus rape perpetrators can act with impunity, particularly after the light sentence given to former Stanford student Brock Turner. In Wilkerson’s case, Judge Patrick Butler ruled that the 22-year-old would serve two years of so-called “work release” and twenty years of probation. Work release allows him to go to work or school during the day, but return to a county jail at night.

Wilkerson pretended to be taking care of the victim before he attacked her during a party in March 2014. He “made certain his roommate saw him checking her pulse and temperature, and giving her water,” prosecutors wrote, according to The Guardian. When the two were left alone, she rebuffed him each time he made an advance, Wilkerson told a university investigator. Although his story changed throughout the proceedings, he admitted he “digitally and orally” penetrated her.

“Have as much mercy for the rapist as he did for me that night,” the victim, who was a first-year student at the time of the attack, pleaded with the judge. ”When I’m not having nightmares about the rape, retaliation or a retrial gone awry, I’m having panic attacks,” she said.

She added, echoing a powerful and viral statement made by Brock Turner’s victim that “worst of all is the victim blaming. ” As the Daily Camera reported, she asked the question: ”‘If I hadn’t been drunk, this wouldn’t have happened. If I hadn’t gotten separated, this wouldn’t have happened.’ Yet it was excusable for him to rape me because he was drunk?”

Wilkerson’s sentence was light relative to Colorado’s harsh sentencing laws for sex offenders. His assault charge carried a presumptive four to 12 year prison sentence, but according to the state’s law, sexual assault sentences are considered ‘indeterminate’, meaning that the offender is released only when assessed fit.

According to The Daily Camera, it was on this basis that the judge hesitated to send Wilkerson to prison.“I’ve struggled, to be quite frank, with the idea of, ‘Do I put him in prison?’” he said. “I don’t know that there is any great result for anybody. Mr. Wilkerson deserves to be punished, but I think we all need to find out whether he truly can or cannot be rehabilitated.”

He warned the defendant about violating his probation.”If you think in any way you are getting off lightly, you are not. Twenty years to life is a long time for somebody to mess up.”

In court documents, the Probation Department recommended no punishment for Wilkerson, because of his “impressive acceptance of responsibility for his conduct,” the local Fox News affiliate reported.

Wilkerson apologized to his victim, even acknowledging that he was part of a larger problem: ”I’m sorry I have perpetrated the cycle of sexual assault on college campus,” he said. “My actions can never be undone.” Prosecutors accused him of being disingenuous throughout the trial, and his remorse being an element of show. The judge shared this concern, saying he worried that Wilkerson was trying to “play the system.”

📬 Kick off each morning with coffee and the Daily Brief (BYO coffee).

By providing your email, you agree to the Quartz Privacy Policy.