Former Paly student sentenced for 2016 rape
Elena Kadvany / Palo Alto Weekly
A former Palo Alto High School student was sentenced Friday to 60 days in juvenile hall for sexually assaulting a young woman in 2016. It was the second sexual-violence conviction for the young man, whose continued enrollment at Paly in 2017, after the first conviction and a third accusation, sparked community outrage.
He was convicted on Aug. 6 of two felony charges: rape and forced oral copulation, according to the Santa Clara County District Attorney's Office.
The convictions stem from incidents that took place between January and May 2016. The district attorney's office would not disclose where the assaults took place.
The young man, whom the Weekly is not identifying because he was a minor at the time of the assaults, appeared in juvenile court in San Jose on Friday morning with his parents and defense attorney, Stephanie Rickard. After the sentencing, he was immediately taken to Santa Clara County Juvenile Hall. Rickard declined to comment for this story.
Although juvenile court proceedings are typically closed, the hearing was open to the public due to the seriousness of the offenses.
These were not the young man's first juvenile sexual violence convictions. In December 2016, he was found to have committed forced oral copulation of a female Menlo-Atherton High School student, then 15 years old, in October 2015, according to court documents reviewed by the Palo Alto Weekly. The assault took place in the bathroom of a local church. He received probation, was ordered to pay restitution to the young woman and to adhere to a restraining order.
He was also accused of forcing a female Paly freshman, then 14 years old, to perform oral sex on him in a campus bathroom in 2016; however, the district attorney's office declined to file any charges against him "other than consensual underage sexual activity," according to Rickard.
Then a junior student-athlete, the young man remained at Paly. After this incident and the M-A conviction came to light last spring, parents, students and community members flooded public meetings in outrage over the district's handling of the allegations. They asked that the young man be removed from campus and called for the resignation of top administrators. Within days, his attorney released a statement that he "elected not to complete the school year on campus."
In an interview after Friday's sentencing, Deputy District Attorney Audrey Pak told the Weekly that the sentence was "just, given our limited options."
Because of legal limitations — including the young man's age, the time that has passed since the assaults and the nature of his most recent conviction, a separate misdemeanor charge that does not fall under the category of disclosable offenses for juveniles — the district attorney's office was not able to seek time in the Department of Juvenile Justice, or state-level incarceration for minors. The "baseline" sentence for sexual offenses in the Department of Juvenile Justice is four years, Pak said.
"Given the number of victims that we know about and the nature of what happened I think that would have been an option we would have explored if that was available," she said.
Pak read a statement on behalf of the unidentified young woman, who was not in court.
"'But you wanted it,'" her statement begins. "'You liked him.' 'He made you happy.' 'Did you say no?' 'Did you say stop?' 'Why didn't you say stop?' 'What were you wearing?' 'Why did you see him?' 'Are you sure?'
"'No, are you really sure?'"
She described the emotional impact of the assault and the difficulty of coming forward. Her daily routine was "distorted," she wrote. She felt "stuck mentally," "scared," "ashamed," and "hopeless."
She said she did not give consent, telling the young man "no."
"My 'no' was not enough," she wrote. "He took complete advantage of my innocence .... He continued to do such acts when aware I did not want to."
She asked that the judge give him the maximum sentence permissible by law.
"He should learn the magnitude of his crime and should have serious consequences," she wrote, "and thus, there will never be another victim ever again."
The Menlo-Atherton student he was found to have sexually assaulted in 2015 was sitting in the courtroom on Friday. After listening to the other victim's impact statement, she asked to address the judge.
She's waited three years, she said, "for a day when I felt like justice would finally be served."
In her own victim impact statement, read at his sentencing for that case last January, she asked that the judge do more than place him on probation to "convey the message that sexual assault, and especially a forcible one, is a very serious offense."
On Friday, she expressed her appreciation for the court taking the 2016 case seriously but lamented that other young women were sexually assaulted after her.
Rickard said her client "has extreme remorse" and has taken steps toward rehabilitation in recent months, including voluntarily going to an out-of-state "facility" where he's received counseling and academic instruction; complying with the terms of his existing probation; and pursuing college options. He was "not aware" of how the young woman felt at the time of the 2016 assaults, Rickard said.
"He is taking responsibility," she said.
The former Paly student will be required to attend sex offender treatment while in juvenile hall and after he is released, according to the probation department's recommendation. While in juvenile hall, the probation department will have the discretion to allow him to leave to attend therapy.
Once released, he will be placed on probation. He will also be ordered to pay restitution to the young woman and adhere to a restraining order Judge Julianne Sylva issued on Friday.
Juvenile court judges face a difficult task, Sylva said, in balancing rehabilitation and accountability for minors, who she said respond less favorably to negative consequences. In this case, she deemed time in juvenile hall appropriate to "allow him to reflect" and learn from his convictions.
"In this case, I have live, breathing victims who will be trapped in the memories of what happened to them for the rest of their lives," Sylva said.
She believed his understanding of consent — "getting a 'yes' in a clear and unequivocal manner," regardless of a person's incapacitation due to alcohol or any other factors — has shifted since he committed the crimes.
"I believe that that lesson has been learned by him," the judge said.