Former Mormon bishop Keith Robert Vallejo is a convicted rapist. However, according to the Utah judge presiding over his trial, he is also “an extraordinarily good man.” The judge’s disturbing comments about Vallejo, who was found guilty of 10 counts of forcible sexual abuse and one count of object rape on February 17, were made during the former Mormon bishop’s sentencing hearing on April 12, in front of his traumatized sexual assault victims.
For those unfamiliar with the clergy of the Mormon church, a bishop is an unpaid member of the church, always male, who leads his local congregation for several years at a time. While a lay position, it is one that involves great authority and trust among members of the church.
Indeed, it wasn’t the first time that Utah judge Thomas Low had raised eyebrows when it came to his treatment of the defendant and former Mormon bishop. After Vallejo’s conviction, The Salt Lake Tribune reports that the Judge actually allowed the convicted rapist to walk away a free man after his sexual assault convictions. Pending his sentencing, which didn’t occur until the end of last week, Vallejo was allowed to return to his Provo, Utah home with his family and eight children.
At the time of the judge’s bizarre and troubling decision to let the former Mormon bishop walk out of jail a free man pending his sentencing, 23-year-old Julia Kirby (one of his victims who has agreed to have her name published in the wake of Vallejo’s “special treatment”) spoke out in outrage. Julia was just 19-years-old when she was victimized by Vallejo, her brother-in-law. Julia was groped multiple times by the former Mormon bishop when she stayed at his home at 2013. At the time, she was a student of the predominantly Mormon Brigham Young University.
“I still feel like, even after he’s convicted, no one is really saying he’s guilty. Because if they were, why would the judge let him go home to a house full of young girls? I don’t understand why that’s a privilege he’s given, when he’s been convicted. He’s been found guilty. It just, to me, says, ‘Yeah, here a jury of his peers believed you, but this judge doesn’t.”
Incidentally, Vallejo was still active in his role as a Mormon bishop at the time that the sexual assaults on Julia Kirby took place. It wasn’t until her accusations came to light that he was stripped of his title.
Julia says that the Utah judge continued to discount what she had been through and diminish the severity of the crimes committed by Keith Robert Vallejo. As Fox News reports, during his sentencing, the Utah judge (who is known to have attended BYU, an almost exclusively Mormon college, himself, but whose religious affiliations cannot be 100 percent confirmed) sentenced the former Mormon bishop to up to life in prison. During the sentencing, Judge Low appeared to get emotional about the job he had to do, and he made the following disturbing statement.
“The court has no doubt that Mr Vallejo is an extraordinarily good man … but great men sometimes do bad things.”
The sexual assaults that Vallejo was convicted of all took place in his Provo, Utah home. Provo is home to BYU, the college attended by both his victim and the presiding judge, an institution which prides itself on its Mormon roots and “honor code” for students. In the last couple of years, that honor code has come under fire for penalizing sexual assault victims who reported what had happened to them. In the past, a sexual assault victim could be punished, even expelled from BYU, if she was found to have been engaged in honor code-violating behavior at the time of her sexual assault.
With everything from drinking to being alone with a member of the opposite sex to wearing immodest clothing being honor code violations, female BYU students were often hesitant to report sexual assaults to university authorities. Last fall, the policy of pursuing honor code violations in sexual assault victims at BYU changed after local media drew attention to the controversial practice. Now, as Fox 13 Now reports, more sexual assaults are being reported at the Mormon university than ever before.
“It’s been a tough year for BYU.”
According to Kirby, the Utah judge showed an utter disregard for the former Mormon bishop’s victims during sentencing with the amount of sympathy he publicly displayed for the convicted rapist.
“That judge didn’t care about me. He only cared about the person he was convicting, and I think that is really kind of despicable.”
Julia Kirby is not former Mormon bishop Vallejo’s only victim. Another unnamed, female victim was just 17-years-old when she was groped and raped while sleeping on the couch of Vallejo’s home in 2014, reports The Guardian.
Prosecutor Ryan McBride, who worked to get the former Mormon bishop put behind bars, says that it doesn’t appear that Utah judge Low was in any way connected to the convicted rapist prior to the trial. McBride also agreed that the judge’s comment about the convicted rapist was “inappropriate,” and linked it to the dozens of positive character letters that the court received in connection with Vallejo’s conviction.
Indeed, it seems that the Utah judge was far from the only one to gush about the former Mormon bishop’s “sterling personality.” Vallejo’s brother even compared the convicted rapist to Jesus while speaking in front of his victims during the controversial sentencing hearing, telling the court that his brother had been wrongfully convicted.
According to prosecutor McBride, it is not uncommon or wrong to speak of a defendant’s good deeds during their sentencing, but it is important to recognize that a lifetime of good works doesn’t excuse criminal behavior.
“I don’t think it’s wrong to acknowledge the good things that someone has done in their lives. But I think whenever you do that in a case like this, you’ve also got to say, ‘But it doesn’t excuse what you’ve done..”
According to the Utah Judicial Performance Evaluation Commission, complaints about the Utah judge and his seemingly preferential treatment of the former Mormon bishop began immediately after Vallejo was released from custody following his conviction for 11 sexual assault-related counts. However, those complaints skyrocketed after the Utah judge got emotional and even praised the convicted rapist during his sentencing on Wednesday.
As for Keith Robert Vallejo himself, he still claims that he did nothing wrong, even lashing out about the “bullying” justice system during his sentencing hearing.
“I maintain my innocence.”
It is unclear what, if any, consequences Utah judge Low could face as a result of his comments about the former Mormon bishop and convicted rapist; he has declined to comment about the public outcry.
[Featured Image by Utah County Sheriff’s Office/AP Images]