The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

Local News

November 17, 2013

Victim is ‘baffled’ by rapist’s sentencing

— When a Limestone county judge ordered no prison time for an Athens man convicted of rape this week, the victim, her family, prosecutors and others were stunned and angry that a rapist walked free.

"Why go through what I went through for a person who wrecked my life to get off free — no time behind bars?" Courtney Andrews told The News Courier. "I had to share my testimony for three hours and he is jailed for two months and let out? What does this say to all of those scared little boys and girls?"

Austin Clem had served only two months in jail during the space between conviction on Sept. 11 and sentencing.

Two months earlier, a jury had convicted 25-year-old Clem on two counts of second-degree rape and one count of first-degree rape in connection with crimes against Andrews — a neighbor, babysitter and family friend. Sexual abuse began at the home Clem shared with his wife when Andrews was only 13, then escalated to rape, which occurred twice at the home when she was 14 and once at Clem's apartment when she was 18.

When sentencing rolled around Wednesday, the victim and prosecutors and many others fully expected some prison time for Clem. Only the number of years was in question.

Prior to sentencing Wednesday, Deputy District Attorney Jim Ayers Jr. had even stated in open court that Clem had a juvenile record, which he said contained a case of sodomy involving a boy. The incident occurred when Clem was 15 and he was put through a program with the Department of Youth Services.

For reasons unclear, Circuit Judge Jimmy Woodroof Jr. sentenced Clem to 20 years in prison on the first-degree rape conviction but then split the sentence, suspended about 15 years of jail time and ordered Clem to serve two years in community corrections — a form of community-based probation — plus three years of supervised probation, and pay $1,631 in restitution and a $750 bail bond fee. He must also register as a convicted sex offender, maintain a job, attend counseling related to the offense, and have no contact with the victim or her family. 

Woodroof ordered Clem to serve 10 years in prison on each of the two counts of second-degree rape, which occurred when the victim was only 14, but both sentences were split to allow him to serve two years in community corrections and three years on probation and will run at the same time as the first-degree rape, thus adding no additional time.

Ayers immediately objected to Woodroof's sentence during Wednesday's hearing, saying the Alabama Code does not allow a first-degree rape sentence to be split to allow time served in community corrections. Woodroof reviewed the matter Thursday, but the sentence stands. The District Attorney's Office is now investigating whether it can appeal the sentence. The Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals could overturn the sentence if it is not one permitted under the code.

Woodroof has declined to comment on the sentence, though it is a rarity for a judge to comment on any sentence conferred.

District Attorney Brian Jones was said to be livid following the sentencing. He initially declined to comment. However, he finally issued a written statement Friday that simply stated the DA's office is looking into an appeal.

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