Cindy Folefack
Managing Editor

Editor’s Note: President Richard Benson issued a statement at 4:49 p.m. CST on Dec. 12 through the university’s Facebook and Twitter channels about Jacob Anderson, the UTD senior at the center of a Baylor University sexual assault case. Benson said that Anderson was admitted to UTD two years ago without knowledge of his legal history. Anderson will not participate in commencement activities and will not be allowed on campus as a student or guest. 

Students started a petition to remove a transfer student who was sentenced yesterday to three years of probation and fined $400 after accepting a plea deal in a closely-watched sexual assault case.

Psychology senior Kelsey Casto launched the petition after hearing of former Baylor University student and current UTD finance senior Jacob Anderson’s case on Dec. 11. According to court records, a grand jury indicted Anderson on four counts of sexual assault in May 2016. Prosecutor Hilary LaBorde subsequently offered Anderson a plea deal in which he would plead no contest to unlawful restraint — a lesser offense — and receive deferred probation and counseling, in exchange for a $400 fine. Anderson will not have to register as a sex offender.

After his arrest in 2016, Anderson was expelled from Baylor and removed from his fraternity, Phi Delta Theta, where the alleged rape occurred. The Baylor chapter of the fraternity was shut down. Anderson then transferred to UTD in 2016. UTD officials confirmed Anderson’s status as a currently enrolled student.

Casto said Anderson’s sentence is what prompted her to start the petition.

“Not only was justice not served, but now he’s moved into a new school after the last one rejected him and it’s like nothing ever happened,” Casto said. “He got zero consequences for his actions and it really bothered me.”

The petition, which was posted on Dec. 11, currently has over 2,000 signatures. Students and alumni have signed the petition, with some leaving comments condemning the university for accepting Anderson’s transfer. Molecular and cell biology graduate Vandita Bhat left a comment after signing the petition.

“UTD, how could you let an accused rapist roam free in a campus filled with young and vulnerable girls?” Bhat wrote.

Casto said the traction the petition gained came as a complete surprise, and she’s hoping the petition will prompt a response from university officials.

“I’m hoping to get some kind of, if not explanation, then some kind of action from the faculty at UTD because I feel like either he lied on his application about the whole situation with Baylor, or he didn’t lie and UTD knew about it and accepted him anyway,” Casto said. “I feel like he is not a good representation of what a UTD student should look like.”

According to the affidavit for Anderson’s arrest, the victim, who has not been named in court documents, alleged that she was handed a drink while attending a Phi Delta Theta fraternity party in February 2016 and became disoriented after consuming the drink. The victim went on to accuse Anderson of leading her to a secluded area while she was in a confused state, where he proceeded to “violently rape” and choke her, leaving her unconscious. The victim stated that she woke up lying face down in her own vomit, at which point she sought help.

Anderson referred The Mercury to Mark Daniel, one of his lawyers, for comment. Daniel said the victim hid the truth from the public in her impact statement. Daniel added that he congratulates Judge Ralph Strother, who presided over the case, as well as LaBorde for seeing the facts of the case and acting fairly as a result. The Mercury attempted to contact Strother, but could not leave a message as his voicemail box was full.

“Anybody who has the intimate knowledge of the facts of the case knows that what (the victim) said in the courtroom yesterday is a complete fabrication,” Daniel said. “It’s a misrepresentation to the public and to the court and it’s a distortion of the truth.”

Daniel said the victim had been drinking prior to the party, and had been seen “passionately kissing, groping and grinding” with Anderson by over 100 people at the party. He added that there was no physical evidence to indicate that she was choked and strangled, an allegation that Daniel said was not present in her original statement to police. Daniel said that had the case gone to trial, it would have resulted in an acquittal.

According to a report published by KCEN-TV, the victim’s friends took her to a local hospital where a sexual assault examination was performed, confirming rape had occurred. The victim also reported the incident to Waco police, Baylor University police and the university’s Title IX office. Casto said as a survivor of sexual assault herself, she wasn’t surprised by the fact that  the alleged attacker received a light sentence, noting the case of former Stanford University student Brock Turner, who served three months in prison for sexually assaulting an unconscious student.

“This is why a lot of women don’t report,” Casto said. “I had a similar situation, but not quite as extreme, where reporting caused me almost more damage than the incident itself. This is becoming commonplace, where we don’t believe the victim or we victim-blame.”

Casto said she thinks the petition has garnered a rapid response because of the alleged attacker’s presence at UTD.

“This is right here. Baylor is miles away, (but) this is in our backyard,” Casto said. “It’s really hard to ignore when this could be you, this could be your best friend, this could be your relative.”