- Steve Bennish
- Will Garbe Staff Writer
The two people whose lives converged on the campus of Stanford University didn’t know each other previously and, by all accounts, had only a brief encounter on the night of Jan. 17, 2015.
After he attacked his victim, the 19-year-old freshman admitted he didn’t know her name and couldn’t even describe her to police.
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He’d been at swimming practice earlier that day, while she had dinner with her parents and then decided to party with her younger sister and her friends on campus, where they ended up at the Kappa Alpha fraternity.
Their accounts of the night and its aftermath are a narrative that touches on excessive alcohol consumption, the anguish of a crime victim, the boorish behavior of a once-promising college athlete, and disputes about intentions and criminal acts.
The night of partying and the bad behavior of the young man at the center of the international firestorm, Brock Turner, left the 22-year-old woman emotionally distraught and in recovery.
Her description of what happened to her, now widely published on the Internet, was so forceful and eloquently written that Vice President Joe Biden penned an open letter to her last week that said, “I do not know your name — but your words are forever seared on my soul.”
Turner, who attended Oakwood High School, was convicted in March on three felony violations: assault with intent to commit rape of an intoxicated/unconscious person, and penetration of an intoxicated person and penetration of an unconscious person.
His sentence — six months in jail, three years’ probation and a lifelong requirement that he register as a sex offender — fell far short of the six years in prison prosecutors had asked for, and international scorn has since rained down on Turner, his supporters and Judge Aaron Persky.
The anger swelled again Thursday when it was revealed Turner, now 20, could be released from the Santa Clara County Jail on Sept. 2 — three months early — because county jail inmates serve 50 percent of their sentences if they keep a clean disciplinary record. He entered jail June 2.
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Persky, a Stanford grad, now faces a recall effort and outrage from state legislators who call his sentence “baffling and repugnant.”
But beyond the acrimony, anger, outrage, accusations and regrets is the story of two young people and a night that changed their lives forever.
It is on that single fact alone that both seem to agree.
In her statement to the court, the victim recalls the night beginning quietly at home. She planned to stay there, watching television, she recalled, after her father made dinner. Her younger sister planned to go with friends to a frat house party, and she decided to join her.
“I would go, dance weird like a fool, and embarrass my younger sister,” she wrote. She said that on the way to the party she joked that undergrad guys would have braces.
“My sister teased me for wearing a beige cardigan to a frat party like a librarian. I called myself ‘big mama’ because I knew I’d be the oldest one there. I made silly faces, let my guard down, and drank liquor too fast, not factoring in that my tolerance had significantly lowered since college.”
There, her narrative on the night of the party ends. After drinking a combination of whiskey, champagne, beer and vodka over the course of the evening, she has no further memory of it.
Others, according to a sentencing brief submitted by District Attorney Jeffrey F. Rosen, have a better recollection from that night, providing details and a timeline of what happened.
She began drinking at 10:30 p.m. and by the time she arrived at the Stanford campus around 11 p.m. — dropped off by the “girls’ mother,” according to court records — she’d had champagne and four shots of whiskey.
More drinking at Kappa Alpha ensued. At the party, she had two shots of vodka and some beer. During the time she made phone calls.
First, to her boyfriend, at 11:54 p.m. “He was not able to understand what she was saying because her speech was unintelligible and she was rambling,” the statement said. At 12:16 a.m., she called him again. He did not answer, but heard the message she left, saying later that “while she was trying to make more sense when she was talking, she still sounded very intoxicated.”
At. 12:18 a.m., he called back and could not make out what his girlfriend was saying. “She was rambling unintelligibly,” he would say.
The victim then called her sister, who had left the party, and again had a short unintelligible conversation.
She says she remembers none of this but does remember waking up hours later.
“I was in a gurney in a hallway,” she said in her statement. “I had dried blood and bandages on the backs of my hands and elbows.”
A deputy tells her she has been assaulted. In a restroom, she pulls down her hospital pants and finds she’s wearing no underwear and assumes it was taken for evidence. She finds pine needles in her hair.
“On that morning, all I was told was that I had been found behind a dumpster, potentially penetrated by a stranger, and that I should get retested for HIV because results don’t always show up immediately.”
Her sister picked her up at the hospital, “face wet from tears and contorted in anguish.”
“She did not know that beneath my sweatsuit, I had scratches and bandages on my skin, my vagina was sore and had become a strange, dark color from all that prodding, my underwear was missing, and I felt too empty to speak. That I was also afraid, that I was also devastated. That day we drove home and my sister held me.”
She learned more about what happened to her that night from a newspaper account she read on her cell phone.
At the time, she thought, “There’s no way this is going to trial; there were witnesses, there was dirt in my body, he ran but was caught. He’s going to settle, formally apologize, and we will both move on. Instead, I was told he hired a powerful attorney, expert witnesses, private investigators who were going to try to find details about my personal life and use it against me, find loopholes in my story to invalidate me and my sister, in order to show that this sexual assault was in fact a misunderstanding.”
The police story
At 1 a.m. on Jan. 18 a 911 call alerted the Stanford University Department of Public Safety about an unconscious woman in a student residential area of fraternity houses.
She was behind a dumpster in a fetal position, her dress pulled up to her waist exposing her because her underwear was on the ground six inches away from her body. Her bra was pushed up above her left breast and her hair and clothing was covered with pine needles. Deputies could hear her snore and detected a pulse. She vomited once but did not regain consciousness.
A man approached and told deputies they “had him pinned down over there.” Pointing to the woman, the man said, “the guy who did that.”
Two men, Peter Jonsson and Carl-Fredrik Arndt, witnessed the assault and intervened, holding Turner down. Another bystander called 911.
“We found him on top of the girl,” Jonsson said. He later cried when recounting the incident to deputies because he said he witnessed “a very disturbing event.”
Paramedics took her, still unresponsive, to the Valley Medical Center in San Jose, where she remained unconscious until 4:15 a.m., more than three hours after the 911 call.
She told deputies that she went to one party and then to the party at Kappa Alpha. There, she said, she drank a beer. She did not recall being alone with any men that night or any sexual interaction.
During a second interview, she said she consumed several shots of whiskey and vodka prior to the party or during the party. Deputies spoke to the victim’s sister. She told them a man, later identified as Turner, was “very aggressive, trying to kiss various females at the party.”
The younger sister said she pushed him away when he tried to kiss her, and she left to tend to a friend who had had too much to drink.
Deputies at the scene with Turner said he had a strong odor of alcohol. He was placed in handcuffs.
A probation officer’s report shows Turner’s blood-alcohol content that night was 0.13 percent, significantly above California’s and Ohio’s 0.08 percent legal intoxication limit. He told the court he was too drunk to know that the woman was unconscious during his encounter with her.
The victim, too, was highly intoxicated. She received a blood draw approximately six hours after her assault that found her blood-alcohol concentration at that time was 0.12 percent. But prosecutors said a back extrapolation done on her blood-alcohol level at the time of the assault placed it at approximately 0.22 percent — “almost three times the legal limit.”
At the time of the assault, it could have been even higher, the District Attorney’s statement said, because she had received saline in the hospital. “It is impossible to know how high,” he wrote.
The two men who witnessed the assault told deputies they were riding bicycles on their way to the Kappa Alpha house when they noticed the man and woman on the ground near the dumpster. It looked to them at first like sex with mutual consent, but Arndt, after getting closer, said he “got a bad feeling.”
The woman was on her back, motionless as though asleep or passed out, he told police.
Arndt yelled at Turner, words like, “Hey, she’s (expletive) unconscious!” their statements show. Turner slowly got off the woman and “began rapidly running away from her.” The two checked on the woman, found her unconscious and Jonsson gave chase, tripping Turner and causing him to fall with a leg sweep.
The two then restrained him until authorities arrived.
Other women told of their encounters with Turner that night, describing him as “touchy.” He put his hands on one while dancing on a table with her; another said Turner “creeped” her out because of his persistence.
Turner, who dreamed of swimming in the Olympics one day, had a prior run-in with the law. On Nov. 15, 2014, he was caught with friends walking on campus and drinking beers. The group ran away, but deputies later located Turner, who was cited for possession of alcohol as a minor.
“He admitted trying to hide the beer and knew he was not supposed to have it because he was not 21 years old,” said a prosecutor’s brief to the court.
Turner, by his account in the court file, began the day of Jan. 17 by attending swim practice. He recalled that Saturdays at college usually meant drinking with friends.
The earlier incident should have caused him to change the pattern, he told the court.
“I regrettably brushed off the incident as a mistake, but not a mistake that should change my behavior with drinking and being around the environment that enables it,” he wrote.
He described alcohol was a stress reliever and, in his mind, gave him a better chance for success with women.
At the party, he began drinking. First, five beers. Then two swigs of Fireball whiskey. At some point, he wound up in the basement where drinking games were going on. The lights were turned out and he began to dance on a table.
He maintains that any interactions he had with women there — including kissing one — were consensual.
“I thought we were enjoying each other’s company,” he wrote.
At some point he approached the victim in the assault case and told her he liked her dancing. They began to talk, then dance and eventually started kissing, he wrote. He invited her back to his dorm room. She agreed, according to Turner, who says the two left to go to his house.
They ended up behind the dumpster after falling as they walked down a slope, he told the court.
“The next thing I realize is that we were both on the ground laying next to each other because it seemed as though she lost her footing heading down the slope, and I went down with her.”
The encounter progressed to consensual sex, he wrote, and he acknowledged taking off her underwear and touching her vagina.
“While this was occurring, I asked if she was enjoying what I was doing, to which she gave me a positive response,” Turner wrote.
It was around this time that he got up to throw up, he wrote, because the alcohol had unsettled his stomach. He heard someone yelling at him and then grab his arms.
“This caused me to think that he was trying to fight with me or mess with me in some way, and I had no idea why,” Turner wrote. “Fear went through my body, which caused me to resist him in any way I could. I broke his physical connection to my body and tried running away from him.”
When police arrived, Turner said he was shocked “to realize that it was me who they were arresting. I swear I never would have done any of this if (name redacted) wasn’t willing. I haven’t done that at any time in my life and wouldn’t do it now.”
Deputies said he told them that not only did he not know the name of the woman, he “was not able to really describe her.”
From the prosecutor
District Attorney Jeffrey Rosen did not agree with Turner’s characterizations of the encounter, including his interactions with the victim and the men who witnessed the attack.
In court papers Rosen called Turner’s expressions of remorse disingenuous.
“The fact that the Defendant is continuing to perpetuate this lie is telling about his character. He is still in denial about his criminal culpability,” Rosen wrote.
“He feigns remorse and claims to ‘feel bad’ about (name redacted), but how does one feel bad about something they have yet to take full responsibility for?”
Family members and acquaintances wrote Judge Persky seeking leniency for Turner, but others took up for the victim.
One of them was Michelle Landis Dauber, a Stanford Law School professor who told the judge in a May 24 letter that her daughter has been a friend of the victim since middle school.
Dauber wrote that a sentence of “probation or a few months in jail is simply not commensurate with the severity of the harm Brock Turner inflicted on her, nor will it deter future similar assaults at Stanford.”
Dauber, too, wanted the judge to know who this person was who was found unconscious in a fetal position behind a dumpster.
“She is a loving, warm, talented, funny girl from a close, loving involved family,” she wrote. “I never worried when my daughter was going to hang out with her in high school because I knew that she would look out for my daughter.”