The Alabama man who was allowed to walk free after being convicted of rape has had his probation extended by two years, but he still won’t have to serve prison time under a new, supposedly stiffer sentence handed down this week.
In September, a jury in Limestone County, Alabama found 25-year-old Austin Smith Clem guilty of raping his teenaged neighbor, Courtney Andrews, three times—twice when she was 14, and once when was she was 18. County Judge James Woodroof theoretically sentenced Clem to 40 years in prison. But Woodroof structured the sentence so that Clem would only serve three years probation, plus two years in the Limestone County corrections program for nonviolent criminals, which would allow Clem to work and live in the community. Only if Clem violated his probation would he be required to serve the prison time.
Clem’s lenient sentence touched off a national outcry, and Andrews eventually appeared on Melissa Harris-Perry’s MSNBC show to call for tougher punishment. In early December, the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals found that the sentence was illegal and ordered Woodroof to mete out a stiffer penalty. But Clem’s new sentence, which Woodroof handed down Monday, only extends Clem’s probation from three to five years. And if Clem violates the terms of his probation, he will only have to serve 35 years in prison—less than he would have under his initial sentence.
Shortly after the re-sentencing, District Attorney Brian Jones, who is seeking prison time for Clem, filed a motion arguing the new sentence was also illegal. Clem’s victim told the Athens Times Daily she “just exploded” when she learned that the court had again decide to let Clem walk free. “I was in tears. I pretty much just laid on my couch the rest of the day,” Andrews said. “It’s almost as if nothing’s changed.”
“We are trying to enjoy Christmas as a family and then this happens, we have no idea what the judge is thinking,” her father, Richard Andrews, told WHNT News. “It’s ridiculous.”
Clem, meanwhile, has announced through his attorney, Dan Totten, that he plans to seek a new trial on the grounds that the judge treated the defense unfairly throughout the trial. “The evidence was not really as strong, as far as I’m concerned, as it should have been for a conviction,” Totten—who did not call any witnesses for the defense during Clem’s trial—told the Times Daily. “If you’re not guilty, it’s not going to make much difference what the sentence is. It’s not fair either way.”
In November, Totten told Mother Jones that he felt sentencing Clem to probation was appropriate. “[Clem’s] lifestyle for the next six years is going to be very controlled,” he argued. “If he goes to a party and they’re serving beer, he can’t say, ‘Can I have one?’ If he wanted to go across the Tennessee line, which as the crow flies is eight or nine miles from his house, and buy a lottery ticket, he can’t do that…It’s not a slap on the wrist.” Totten also alleged that Andrews’ account was dubious. “There’s always two sides to the story,” he said.