Exclusive: An Illinois judge shocked the victim, her family and prosecutors when he reversed his own guilty verdict, claiming it would be ‘not just’ to sentence Drew Clinton to prison for raping a 16-year-old girl. In an interview with The Independent, the victim’s father questions why the judge is able to ‘take the law into his own hands’ and what message he is sending out to other survivors, writes Rachel Sharp
Scott hoped that 3 January was a day that would help his 16-year-old daughter to heal. Drew Clinton, the man found guilty of raping her at a graduation party on Memorial Day weekend, was to be sentenced to prison in Adams County, Illinois.
The 18-year-old was set to spend a minimum of four years behind bars under state law, after the court heard how he had held a pillow over his underage victim’s face and raped her while she was unconscious.
His victim (name withheld) had written a victim impact statement to read to the court about how the sexual assault had affected her life.
“She felt that the sentencing would be a happier day,” Scott tells The Independent. “A day that she could read her victim impact statement and that justice would be upheld for her.”
But, in a bombshell ruling that shocked her family, prosecutors and legal experts, judge Robert Adrian denied her that chance to heal.
The judge reversed Clinton’s conviction, allowing the 18-year-old to walk free from prison with no criminal record, no probation, and without being placed on the sex offender register – just three months after finding him guilty.
Based on his comments, the change in verdict was not based on any new evidence or a sudden change of heart that led the judge to rethink Clinton’s innocence.
Instead, the judge said he believed Clinton had already received “plenty of punishment” after serving five months in county jail while awaiting sentencing, and that it would be “not just” to sentence him to the statutory minimum of four years in prison for rape.
“There is no way, for what happened in this case, that this teenager should go to the Department of Corrections. I will not do that,” he said, according to the court transcript.
Judge Adrian said he could find the statutory sentence unconstitutional, but that an appeal court would reverse his ruling and send Clinton to prison anyway.
“But what the court can do, because this was a bench trial, the court will find that the people failed to prove their case on count three,” he said.
“The court is going to reconsider its verdict, the court is going to find the defendant not guilty.”
In an exclusive interview with The Independent, the victim’s father is now speaking out to blast the judge for “muzzling” his 16-year-old daughter, and to reveal how “in just 15 minutes” Judge Adrian destroyed all the progress that she had made to move forward with her life in the wake of the sexual assault.
October’s guilty verdict brought some “relief” to his daughter and meant that she was finally able to “start to try to heal”, explains Scott. The judge’s reversal has now “destroyed” this and sent her back to square one all over again, he says.
“He has destroyed everything we’ve worked at to get my daughter to start healing … in just 15 minutes he destroyed all of that,” he says.
“We were finally seeing her starting to be a little bit more like herself again. The scar was there, and the scab was starting to heal, then the judge ripped it off and we’re back to square one.”
The judge blamed everyone but his daughter’s attacker for what had happened to her, he says.
“It’s been a rough road, and then for the judge to spit in our faces and blame my daughter and blame the parents and everyone else for what he did is totally unacceptable,” he says. He adds: “You’ve taken my 16-year-old daughter, who was starting to live with what happened, and meant she now has to start all over again.”
Scott says he feels that the judge failed to deliver a verdict in accordance with the law.
“Your job as a judge is to uphold the law, not take the law into your own hands… you found him guilty,” he says. “Your job was to sentence him, and because you couldn’t change the law, the only thing you could do was change the verdict. What gives you the right to take the law into your own hands?”
Scott says he wishes he could ask the judge what changed his mind about the verdict. “How can you give a guilty verdict and then three months later decide to take the law into your own hands and think it is okay to let this kid go?” he asks.
He points to the judge’s comments when handing down his decision, where he appeared to shift the blame onto the parents of the teenager who held the party at which teenagers were drinking alcohol.
“They allowed 16-year-olds to bring liquor to a party. They provided liquor to underage people, and you wonder how these things happen. Well, that’s how these things happen,” the judge said.
“‘These things happen?’” Scott says of the language used by the judge. “That is absolutely asinine for him to say that.”
To Scott, the blame-shifting sends a dangerous message to other young women and men: that a rapist will not be held accountable when they are young and when alcohol was involved.
“My 17-year-old son was in the courtroom. He turned to me after and said: ‘So the judge says as long as I have a clean record and I’m 18 I can get away with sexual assault and it’s not my fault. It’s the underage victim’s fault for drinking. It’s the parents’ fault. It’s everyone’s fault but mine.’”
“My son’s comments really opened my eyes [to what the ruling meant],” he adds.
For victims of sexual assault, like his daughter, the judge sends a clear message that they shouldn’t speak up against their attackers, says Scott. “The judge did nothing but muzzle victims. Why would they tell their story and put themselves through all of this and not get justice?”
Scott describes how, for the past eight months, his daughter has been struggling to deal with what happened to her. Rather than enjoying her senior year, she can no longer go to school in person as she fears that “people would snicker, say she’s lying, call her the rape girl”, says Scott.
The former high school sports star has dropped out of all her sports, has moved to learning remotely, and is “scared to date people”.
“She can’t go to prom or do any of the things she should be doing in her senior year,” says Scott. “It’s affected everything.”
The toll that the sexual assault has taken on the 16-year-old came to a head when she attempted to take her own life, he reveals. Scott recounts how he received a panicked phone call in the night from one of his daughter’s friends, and rushed into her room. She was taken to hospital where she suffered multiple seizures.
When Scott found his daughter’s suicide note, he noticed that the only name she mentioned in it was Clinton’s.
“The suicide letter had only one name in it which was Drew’s. It stated: ‘I’m sorry I have to do this, I can no longer live my life with this burden … I hope Drew goes to jail for what he’s done,’” he says.
“I sat by her bedside in hospital for five days as she clung on to life. Then she had to spend seven days in a local psychiatric unit to make sure she wouldn’t hurt herself again. We knew this was affecting her massively but had no idea that was even on the cards. I can’t imagine what went through her mind to think that was the only way out.”
As well as the sexual assault itself, the 16-year-old also had the ordeal of going through the legal process after Clinton was charged with rape, says Scott. In the courtroom, she was forced to testify on the stand about the sexual assault, an ordeal that Scott says left her feeling “ridiculed”.
“It was difficult for her as she’s 16 and she was attacked by the defence. It was also the first time when she had to look Drew in the face [after the assault],” he says.
To make matters worse, Scott says, he and his wife were not able to be in the courtroom to support her because they had also been subpoenaed by the defence. Neither was called to testify. “Then when the guilty verdict came there was just a sense of relief,” says Scott. “Only to go to sentencing and be worse off than before.”
Scott says that neither his daughter nor the rest of his family wanted or expected Clinton to receive the maximum possible sentence of 40 years. He says they were “100 per cent on board” with him getting the minimum of four years.
But now his daughter has been left wishing she had never spoken up about the sexual assault in the first place.
“When we got home [after the sentencing hearing] she looked at me with tears in her eyes and said ‘I wish I’d never said anything,’” he says. “As a parent that destroyed me. It was devastating. She feels like she went through all of this for nothing, and if she had not said anything and buried it then she wouldn’t have had to go through all of this.”
Because of the new verdict, she was also robbed of the chance to deliver her victim impact statement to the court. Scott says it has been “tough” but that he, his wife and his daughter had each written statements to tell their story. “We mentally prepared ourselves and never got a chance to read them,” he says.
Now, while Clinton is walking free because the judge ruled five months to be “plenty” of time for his punishment, Scott says his daughter is left to live with what happened.
“He walked out of the courtroom and gets to go home. She has to live with this for the rest of her life,” he says. “And we have to live with this as a family.”
In light of the judge’s actions, Scott says his daughter has no more legal avenues to pursue justice. The only option would be a civil case, which he says they are not interested in because “this isn’t about money” and they “don’t want [his daughter] to go through any more”.
But, despite the outcome in the courts, Scott says he is “so proud” of his daughter for speaking up about what happened to her, and hopes she can inspire other survivors to refuse to stay silent.
“My message to other survivors would be don’t hide it,” he says. “Speak up. My daughter has shown such confidence to speak up and I’ve seen what happens when someone tries to hold it in. Even if you think no one is listening, I promise you that somebody is.”
If you are experiencing feelings of distress, or are struggling to cope, you can speak to the Samaritans, in confidence, on 116 123 (UK and ROI), email firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit the Samaritans website to find details of your nearest branch.
If you are based in the USA, and you or someone you know needs mental health assistance right now, call National Suicide Prevention Helpline on 1-800-273-TALK (8255). This is a free, confidential crisis hotline that is available to everyone 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
If you are in another country, you can go to www.befrienders.org to find a helpline near you.