The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

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November 26, 2013

Thousands sign Internet petition against Athens man rape sentence

— A petition started by an Internet social-networking site wants an Athens man convicted of rape but sentenced to no prison time to spend some time in jail — rather than on probation — for his crimes.

More than 13,000 people have now signed an online petition against the Oct. 13 sentence against Austin Smith Clem, 25. Abigail Collazo created the petition on www.Care2.com, an Internet social-networking site whose members attempt to make a difference for the environment, human and animal rights, and other causes.

On Sept. 11, a Limestone County jury found Clem guilty of one count of first-degree rape and two counts of second-degree rape in connection with the rapes of family friend and babysitter Courtney Andrews, who was 14 and 18 at the time. Though Andrews testified that she told a friend when she was 16 about the rapes that occurred when she was 14, she testified that Clem threatened to harm her parents if she told them. She immediately told a friend, her parents and police about the rape that occurred when she was 18. The defense had argued at trial there was no DNA or physical evidence of rape.

Circuit Judge James Woodroof Jr. sentenced Clem on Oct. 13 to 20 years in prison on the first-degree rape but he split that sentence, suspended 15 years of prison time and ordered Clem to serve two years of community corrections and three years of supervised probation. Clem was also ordered to register as a sex offender.

“This slap-on-the-wrist sends a clear message that rape is no big deal,” said Blair Fitzgibbon, senior vice president of Fitzgibbon Media Inc., a company that helps promote various social justice causes, including www.Care2.com. “That a crime involving the violent sexual abuse of a child will not be punished. Anyone who rapes and threatens a 14-year-old girl deserves nothing less than prison time. Justice demands it.”

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