More than 175,000 people have signed an online petition calling on the Idaho Judicial Council to remove judge Randy Stoker from the bench after Stoker allowed 18-year-old John Howard to avoid jail time for using a coat hanger to sodomize a black teen with special needs in the locker room at Dietrich High School in the tiny town of Dietrich, Idaho.
After Howard pled guilty to the lesser offense of injury to a child, Stoker sentenced him to two years of probation and 300 hours of community service. The original sexual assault charges could have carried a life prison sentence.
Stoker approved the plea deal over the objections of the victim and his family, which is unusual. Stoker said the incident did not have a sexual or racist nature, even though the victim had been bullied with racist slurs.
“People from the East Coast have no idea what this case is about,” Stoker said, according to The Associated Press. “I’m not going to impose a sentence that is not supported by the law.”
More than 30 witnesses confirmed the incident in which Howard, Tanner Ward and another juvenile who has not been identified lured the black teen into a locker room, stripped him, forcibly inserted a coat hanger into his rectum and kicked it to drive it deeper, causing internal injuries. Prosecutors sought a felony rape conviction.
The school conducted its own investigation and found evidence of misconduct, including sexual assault, bullying and sexual harassment. The school board expelled Howard and at least one of the other alleged attackers, according to documents released by the attorney general’s office.
“If this was a sexual offense, if this was a racially motivated offense, the good order of protection of society would say that you need the penitentiary,” Stoker said during sentencing. “It’s not that.”
Dennis Benjamin, an Idaho criminal defense attorney, said he was surprised that Howard was offered a plea deal with a sentence that seems “unusually low.”
“You could certainly argue that it was for the purpose of sexual abuse. I think that’s a closer case. And the fact that he dry humps him earlier shows an intent to sort of humiliate and dominate sexually,” Benjamin said. “But it’s not the greatest case in the world.”
“In spite of all of this evidence, this week John Howard was given the break of his life,” the online petition says. “Instead of getting life in prison for what he did, he won’t be going to jail for 10 years or five years or a year or six months or even a day. Instead, he’s getting two years of probation and 300 hours of community service. With good behavior, the judge said his record could be expunged. He’ll also be allowed to do his community service in his new home in Texas where his family peacefully relocated.”
“This isn’t a case of ‘boys will be boys yet the sentence depicts that cultural attitude,” the petition says. “Please assist us in removing Judge Randy Stoker today by signing our petition.”