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Lack of jail time for rapist draws ire

By Nick Valencia, CNN
updated 6:59 PM EST, Fri November 15, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Austin Clem was convicted of raping a minor
  • But he was not sentenced to any jail time
  • The victim has come forward to express her outrage
  • The defense is considering appealing the conviction

(CNN) -- An Alabama judge this week gave a convicted rapist a sentence in which he could avoid jail time altogether, a move that shocked the victim and the defense.

"I'm still baffled," the victim, Courtney Andrews, told CNN. She came forward publicly to express her outrage over Wednesday's sentencing. "I don't know how any of this is possible."

The defense for Austin Clem, 25, was also caught off guard at first.

"Frankly, I think the judge's sentence was surprising to most everyone in the courtroom," said Clem's attorney, Dan Totten.

Clem was convicted of one count of forcible rape and two counts of second-degree rape, attacks that occurred when Andrews was a minor.

Limestone County Judge James Woodroof handed down jail terms of 20 years for the forcible rape and 10 years each for the second-degree rape charges, to run concurrently, but he suspended those sentences. Instead, he opted for three community corrections sentences of two years plus three years of supervised probation, to be carried out concurrently. Clem must register as a sex offender, but if he follows all the guidelines, he will stay out of prison.

Beyond expressing surprise at the judge's actions, both sides found little else about which to agree.

"Honestly, I didn't understand when I first heard the sentence," said Andrews, now 20. "I was expecting him to spend a long time in prison."

She spoke of abuse that started when she was 13, saying she kept quiet for years because of threats.

"I was hurt for a long time," she said. "I had to grow up at a very, very young age, and I know what it's like to have your life threatened and that no one will understand me."

Woodroof did not return CNN's calls Friday to explain his ruling.

The county's district attorney, Brian Jones, told CNN he was "reviewing available options to set aside this sentence and to achieve a sentence that gives justice to our victim."

Jones could not offer specifics on what options are available saying he could not "comment publicly on the particulars of this case."

During the sentencing phase of the trial, prosecutors offered evidence that Clem had participated in a rehabilitation program for sex offenders when he was a teen.

Clem's attorney confirmed his client's history.

"(Clem) did go through a program. He was sent to the Department of Youth Services for a sex abuse case that occurred when he was well under 15-years-old," said Totten.

Regardless of Clem's past troubles, from Totten's point of view the sentence was too harsh.

"This is a case with two sides to the coin," Totten said. "There are two sides. The evidence was not clear and convincing."

The lawyer says Clem is considering an appeal on the conviction. He has 30 days from the sentencing to do so.

As the sentence stands, the requirements for community corrections are so stringent that they are in effect a form of house arrest, Totten said.

"It sets a bar so high, I don't know of a lot of people who could abide by these limitations," he said.

According to Clem's attorney, the relationship should not have happened because Clem was married and Andrews was a minor, but it was consensual.

Andrews was good friends with Clem's wife and kept going to his house even after the initial attacks, Totten said.

"It doesn't appear from her actions that she was saying 'no,' " he said.

Andrews won't hear any of that. At that young age, she could not legally consent to anything.

She stayed in Clem's life, she said, because she was manipulated and threatened.

At first, he told her it was OK, but that she couldn't tell anyone. Later, she said, it turned into threats on her life.

"What am I supposed to do?" she asked. "It takes everything I have to not just hate him."

Andrews said she is in shock.

"I have absolutely no idea how he got this sentence," she said.

CNN's Mariano Castillo and John Newsome contributed to this report.

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