By Jean Cole
A state appeals court has agreed to temporarily halt and to review a rape sentence that incensed the victim and Limestone County prosecutors earlier this month.
District Attorney Brian Jones said the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals has agreed to review the sentence of Austin Smith Clem, 25, of Athens, who avoided serving prison time despite being convicted of three counts of rape involving a girl who was a neighbor, family friend and babysitter.
The court agreed to stay the sentence Friday and it also docketed, or scheduled, the case for consideration. Although the district attorney had asked to present oral arguments to the court, he has not learned whether the court will grant that request.
The victim, Courtney Andrews, 20, was 14 and 18 when the rapes occurred. The first two rapes occurred at the home Clem shared with his wife, Andrews testified. She said the third rape occurred at Clem's apartment after she was lured there under false pretense to see the Clem's daughters. She testified that she fought and bit Clem during the third rape, immediately told a friend, her parents and underwent a rape screening. Clem's defense attorney, Dan Totten of Athens, said during the trial there was no physical evidence of DNA or of a struggle from the third rape. Andrews did not tell anyone about the first two rapes until she was 16, when she told a friend, Rita Pfaff, who testified on her behalf.
After a three-day trail and hearing all of the evidence, Clem was convicted Sept. 11 on two counts of second-degree rape and of one count of first-degree rape. On Oct. 13, Limestone County Circuit Judge James Woodroof Jr. sentenced Clem to serve no prison time but, rather, community corrections — a type of local, supervised probation that allows Clem to live at home and maintain a job — followed by three years of supervised probation. He was also ordered to register as a convicted sex offender.
An outraged Jones — who called the sentence a “gross disruption of criminal justice” — said Woodroof's ruling was illegal under Alabama law. The district attorney’s office appealed the sentence to the Court of Criminal Appeals, asked for a stay and for the court to review the sentence.
Woodroof has declined to comment on the sentence, though judges rarely comment on any sentence bestowed.