Judge draws criticism over his remarks He appears to blame victim in sentencing convicted rapist

Prosecutor 'taken aback'

Woman was beaten earlier, did not leave assailant, Dudley says

December 02, 1997|By Caitlin Francke | Caitlin Francke,SUN STAFF

For the second time, remarks by Howard Circuit Judge James B. Dudley in a sexual assault case have upset Howard rape counselors and victim advocates who say the judge appears to blame the women for being the victims of rape.

The controversy focuses on last week's sentencing of convicted rapist Chester Paul Walker Jr., who lived with the 29-year-old woman he assaulted. Dudley suggested that the rape might never have happened if the woman had taken action after Walker beat her one year earlier when she was pregnant with his child.

As the victim sat in the courtroom, Dudley said:

"These cases always present difficulties for the court. And sometimes the difficulties are created by the parties themselves. I have [the victim] who found it quite tolerable to continue to live without the benefit of matrimony with somebody who beat her up while she was pregnant holding another child. It's not a question of condoning that kind of thing but people frequently get themselves into a situation where these crimes would never be committed if they exercised some reasonable sense in dealing with the people in the first time they're the victim of crimes.

"Now, we cannot always hold ourselves to those standards because they involve interpersonal relationships and matters affecting the heart. Once the blood leaves the brain and goes to the heart we're all in trouble. So this case is the result of [the victim's] failure to exercise reasonable judgment with respect to her previous beating by the same defendant," Dudley said, according to a tape recording of the hearing Nov. 25.

The victim said the judge's words made her "feel horrible."

"The judge just doesn't understand. He's got an easy life. I don't think he could imagine what it's like to go through something like this," said the woman, who supports herself and two children with a job as a waitress.

The comments "felt like a shot," said Sheila Begg, the victim's rape counselor who accompanied her to court. The victim gasped and "looked at me in disbelief like, 'Am I hearing what I think I'm hearing?' Whose right is it for him to blame her?"

Added Cheryl DePetro, executive director of the nonprofit Sexual Trauma, Treatment, Advocacy and Recovery Center in Howard County: "The criminal act is that Walker committed a crime of sexual violence against an intimate partner, not that the victim stayed in the relationship."

The prosecutor, Assistant State's Attorney Cindy Johnson, said she was "taken aback by [Dudley's] failure to understand the cycle of violence and concerned for the impact the statements had on the victim. The victim didn't deserve to hear that. She's been through enough."

Judge's observation

In an interview, Dudley said he was simply making an observation. The woman had taken no steps to protect herself and that enhanced "the prospect of this happening again."

"I didn't say it was her fault," Dudley said. He added there should be enough resources for women so they don't have to live like this. "A beating when you're pregnant is a serious, serious warning."

Dudley sentenced Walker to five years in prison -- the lower of state guidelines for the crimes he was convicted of -- and addressed Walker.

"To engage in a party for three or four hours entertaining other people and then as soon as the party is over to find either a need, a justification, or an explanation or excuse for beating the hell out of the woman you live with is a sad commentary," Dudley said.

He added that domestic violence is a very serious problem and "that's because we have the Chester Walkers of the world. Mr. Walker is obviously a classic Jekyll and Hyde."

Dudley said in the interview that the victim advocates have complained about his comments. Domestic violence situations often involve more than just the defendant, he said, and it's his right to make a comment.

"They're upset because [they think] the victims are totally innocent they are entitled to have that opinion," Dudley said. "But I don't wear the same glasses they do."

Earlier criticism

Dudley came under fire from the same groups last year. In that case, prosecutors said a 15-year-old girl was lured into having sex with a 31-year-old man. After calling the man a "bad actor," Dudley complained that increased teen-age sexual activity has led to more criminal cases involving similar incidents.

"We are now raising a generation of people who mate like people in heat. They don't have a date, they don't have an introduction," he said at the time.

Victim advocates say Dudley does not understand the complexities of domestic situations and how easily women can become trapped in difficult situations.

The advocates say they hope to raise the issue before the local Family & Sexual Violence Coordinating Council, a group that includes representatives of law enforcement agencies, social services and crisis centers and is co-chaired by two judges. The council is trying to help women who are victims of violence.

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