Utah Judge Reverses Himself, Sends Convicted Sex Abuser to Prison

Fourth District Judge Thomas Low sentenced convicted sex abuser and former Mormon bishop Keith Vallejo to one-to-15 years in prison for the second-degree felonies and a five-years-to-life term for object rape.  The sentences are to run concurrently.

Former Utah Mormon Bishop Keith Robert Vallejo was found guilty of 11 felonies-ten counts of second-degree felony forcible sexual abuse and one count of object rape, a first-degree felony.  The judge had initially ruled that Vallejo could go home to his family pending sentencing – a ruling that outraged Vallejo’s victims and sexual assault advocates.

In allowing Vallejo to remain free prior to sentencing, the judge ruled that because Vallejo had posted a cash bail, has a large family, and works in the community, he would not be a risk of flight or of committing other crimes. The judge also thought there would be “minimal damage” to the victims because they live out of state, according to news reports at the time.

The female witnesses who testified during the criminal trial, as well as the prosecutor, didn’t agree with the judge’s decision. After the verdict was read, Deputy Utah County Attorney Ryan McBride cited the state statute, which requires convicted felons to be detained in custody while awaiting final sentence. The law, however, allows a defendant to remain free if a judge finds “clear and convincing evidence” that the defendant will not flee and is not a danger to anyone in the community.

Since I was not at the trial, I am not sure what the judge determined to be “clear and convincing” evidence that Vallejo would not be a danger to the community. But he had just been found guilty of nearly a dozen sexual abuse felonies, and given the high recidivism rate among this offending population, why did the judge take the risk that Vallejo would not commit another similar crime?

Julia Kirby, who was 19 when Vallejo sexually attacked her, offered testimony at the trial and spoke to reporters afterward. “We didn’t know what he’s capable of doing,” she told The Tribune. “He’s still going to be living at home with his eight kids. … He could still be out walking around with no consequences.” Kirby said she found the judge’s remarks offensive, and added that she felt Low was “thinking more about the guilty defendant and his family sitting in the stands.”

Vallejo is now in prison, serving his sentence. In the future, more thought should be given to sexual assault victims before convicted assailants are allowed to remain free prior to sentencing.

Dumas Law Group has law offices in Portland, Oregon and serves clients in Oregon, Washington, California, and other states.

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