The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

November 19, 2013

Jury foreman upset by sentence in rape case

Associated Press

— (AP) A jury foreman said Tuesday he was disappointed that an Alabama man convicted of repeatedly raping a former neighbor won't go to prison because of a judge's decision.

Mark Whitt said he and other jurors expected Austin Smith Clem to serve time in prison, and he called the judge's lenient punishment "very disturbing."

"It's like why did we go through this, and why did the young woman go through this?" Whitt told The Associated Press in an interview.

Whitt was foreman of a Limestone County jury that convicted Clem, 25, on three rape counts in September. Circuit Judge James Woodroof sentenced Clem to community corrections and probation last week, letting him avoid time in state prison.

Whitt said he knows Woodroof personally, calling the judge a "great guy (who) comes from a good family."

"I just don't know what happened," said Whitt, whose family is in the barbecue business in North Alabama.

Prosecutors contend the sentence is illegally lenient, and they have asked the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals to intervene by ordering a new sentencing hearing. They also asked Woodroof to send Clem to jail immediately during the appeal.

Whitt and other jurors convicted Clem on one count of first-degree rape and two counts of second-degree rape in a series of sexual assaults on a neighbor and one-time family friend. The woman, now 20, testified that Clem sexually abused her at age 13 and then again when she was 14 and 18.

During the trial, the defense argued there was no evidence of assault and characterized the victim as a "scorned woman," but jurors disagreed. Clem, Whitt said, presented "essentially no defense."

"She testified and there was some other evidence we discussed in the jury room that wasn't emphasized as much during the trial. When we discussed it, it was pretty obvious to us that she was telling the truth. It was unanimous," he said.