Judge Thomas Low let Keith Robert Vallejo out of custody after jury convicted him of 10 counts of forcible sexual abuse and one count of object rape
Complaints are pouring against a Utah judge who called a former Mormon bishop convicted of rape an extraordinary, good man who did something wrong, a Utah judicial oversight organization said on Friday.
About 40 emails, six voicemails and some Facebook messages complaining about Judge Thomas Low have come in since late March, said Jennifer Yim, executive director of the Utah judicial performance evaluation commission.
The complaints began after Low let Keith Robert Vallejo out of custody after a jury found him guilty of 10 counts of forcible sexual abuse and one count of object rape.
But Yim said most of the complaints were filed after the Wednesday sentencing hearing when Low seemed emotional as he sentenced Vallejo to up to life in prison, The Salt Lake Tribune reported.
The court has no doubt that Mr Vallejo is an extraordinary, good man, Low said during the sentencing. But great men sometimes do bad things. One of Vallejos victims said she was shocked by the judges sympathy, saying it felt like he cared more about Vallejo than the victims.
Low did not return a request for comment submitted through Utah court spokesman Geoff Fattah.
One victim was 19 when she said Vallejo, a relative, groped her multiple times when she stayed at his house while attending Brigham Young University in 2013. A second victim told police Vallejo raped and groped her while she slept on his couch in 2014 when she was 17.
The abuse occurred in Provo, a Mormon stronghold that is home to BYU. Low attended BYU, where almost all students are Mormon, but it is not clear whether he is a member of the faith.
There was no indication that Low had any prior friendship or relationship with Vallejo, said Ryan McBride, the prosecutor on the case. A judge would have to disclose something like that, he said.
McBride called Lows comment inappropriate, and it they may have come in response to more than 50 character letters sent in about Vallejo. McBride said the suspects brother spoke at the hearing and compared Vallejo to Jesus in making the argument that he is being wrongly convicted.
I dont think its wrong to acknowledge the good things that someone has done in their lives, said McBride. But I think whenever you do that in a case like this, youve also got to say, but it doesnt excuse what youve done.
A spokesman for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints said Vallejo was released from his position as bishop after church leaders found out about the accusations.
In the faith, bishops are regular church members who lead their congregations for four to five years. The position is unpaid and part of the religions lay clergy structure that makes it different from many other religions.
Sexual assault victim advocates also expressed outrage over the comments.
The signal that it sends to sexual violence survivors is that if you choose to disclose, that were still going to treat your perpetrator as if theyre a good person, said Turner Bitton, executive director of the Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault.