After original charges of assaulting at least a dozen women, one Wisconsin man pleaded guilty to charges of sexually assaulting three women and stalking and choking two more. The judge decided that this merited a sentence of three years in prison. Others deeply disagreed, like one lawmaker who blasted Judge Stephen Ehlke for letting a "serial rapist off the hook."
According to CBS News, the Dane County Circuit judge sentenced Alec Cook, a self-confessed serial rapist who assaulted numerous women on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus, to three years in prison, with an additional eight years of close supervision and 15 years on the sex offender registry.
WISC reported that prosecutors had asked for 19 years in prison, while defense had been asking for only eight years of probation. With the five crimes that he pleaded guilty to, he could have faced up to 40 years in prison and a lifetime on the sex offender registry.
State Sen. Lena Taylor, a Democrat from Milwaukee, released a statement commenting on the proceedings, according to CBS News. "Judge Ehlke let a serial rapist off the hook," Taylor wrote in her statement. "The question we have to ask is: why?"
According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Ehlke justified Cook's short sentence by saying that it was rare for someone who had no previous convictions to receive a prison sentence, and that a long prison sentence would not cure the personality disorders that plague Cook. The Journal Sentinel reported that psychologist William Merrick had testified in the case to say that Cook had narcissistic traits and a sexual sadism disorder.
"Sexual sadism is an intense and persistent fantasy urge or behavior linked to sexual arousal," Merrick said, according to the Journal Sentinel. He also said that he did not know of any prison programs that treat disorders like that, and Ehlke cited that as one of the reasons why a long prison sentence was not necessary. Outside of prison, Ehlke said, Cook would be able to get the psychological treatment that he needed.
Cook also made a statement at his sentencing, according to WISC.
“I’m sorry. I was wrong. You told the truth and everyone should believe you," Cook said, WISC reports. "This is my fault. You didn’t deserve this and neither did your families. To them, too, I am so sorry."
According to CBS News, Cook was initially charged with 20 crimes against 12 women between 2014 and 2016, but the other half of Cook's plea deal was that prosecutors would dismiss the remaining charges. The charges that remained still involved stalking and assaulting five women, though, and Sen. Taylor commented on this in her statement.
"Three years is equal to a roughly seven month sentence for each of his victims," she wrote, according to CBS News. "What message are we sending these victims with this degree of leniency?"
CBS News also reported that Taylor commented on a case from Ehlke's past, which she said was similar to Cook's in most aspects — except for two notable aspects.
"Cook, who kept over twenty journals of detailed information on his would-be victims, got three years, but the same judge sentenced Adore Thomas to twenty years in prison for the sexual assault of one woman," Taylor wrote, referring to the case of Adore Thomas, a black teen with a previously clean criminal record who Ehlke sentenced to 20 years in prison for one rape charge. "The disparity in sentencing in these cases is deeply troubling."
Another frequent comparison on Twitter was the case of Brock Turner, in which a former Stanford student and convicted sex offender only got six months in jail. By Taylor's calculation, then, the jail time per victim is relatively similar for the two men. According to the victims' statements, the effects on their lives will last much longer.
"In less than 24 hours my body became a crime scene and my life changed forever," read one victim's statement, according to WISC. "Part of me died in order to survive that night with him."