The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

November 19, 2013

DA wants convicted rapist jailed pending appeal of sentence

By Jean Cole

— The Limestone County district attorney wants convicted rapist Austin Smith Clem to be locked up while the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals decides whether his sentence on three counts of rape is legal.

Following a three-day trial in September, a jury found Clem, 25, of 2220 Windscape Drive, Athens, guilty of one count of first-degree rape and two counts of second-degree rape in connection with the rape of Courtney Andrews, a family friend and babysitter. She was raped twice at age 14 and once at age 18, the jury found.

Prosecutors expected Clem to receive prison time beyond the two months he had already spent in the county jail between conviction and sentencing Nov. 13.

However, Circuit Judge Jimmy Woodroof Jr. sentenced Clem to 20 years in prison on the first-degree rape but split the sentence to 2 years to be served in community corrections — a local probation program for low-level, non-violent offenders, plus three years of supervised probation beyond that. Thus, Woodroof suspended 15 years of prison time.

He also sentenced Clem to 10 years in prison split to serve two years in community corrections plus three years of supervised probation on both of the second-degree rape convictions, with one to be served following the first-degree rape sentence and one to serve at the same time. Clem was also ordered to pay a fine and restitution. As a condition of probation, Clem will have to maintain a job and, among other requirements, report to a probation officer or be subject to reinstatement of prison time. 

The victim and prosecutors were outraged.

District Attorney Brian Jones on Friday asked the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals to suspend the imposed sentence pending a ruling by the court and return Clem to the Limestone County Jail until the Court of Appeals decides the legality of the sentence.

Jones has now asked the Appeals Court to allow him to present oral arguments as to why the court should direct Woodroof to vacate his sentencing order of Nov. 13 on grounds that his order “exceeds his judicial authority and is so contrary to the law as to cause a gross disruption of criminal justice.”

Specifically, Jones takes issue with the legality of the sentence for first-degree rape. He believes Woodroof violated the Alabama split-sentence statue in sentencing Clem to 20 years in prison, split to serve only two years. He also believes Woodroof violated the Alabama Community Punishment and Corrections Act by sentencing Clem to serve a split sentence in a community corrections program.

Woodroof has declined to comment on the sentence imposed on Clem, though it is rare for any judge to comment on a sentence or any other ruling.

The News Courier will continue to follow Jones’ request to the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals.