Social media is often where activists, politicians, non-profit groups, or simply members of the public share their concerns and outrage over what they perceive as miscarriages of justice. Excessive punishments, racial disparities in sentencing, and an apparently permissive attitude towards sexual assault among some judges and prosecutors have all formed the basis of viral Facebook and Twitter memes in recent years.
Towards the end of 2018 and in the beginning of 2019, one case in particular caught the attention of social media users: Jacob Walter Anderson, a former student and fraternity president at Baylor University in Texas, was accused of raping a sophomore outside a frat party but ended up receiving what many observers viewed as an outrageously insufficient punishment.
NOTE: The following article includes details and descriptions of an alleged sexual assault, which might be upsetting to some readers.
On 13 December 2018, Facebook user Lesley Templeton Keith posted what became a widely shared set of claims about Anderson’s case, accompanied by what was presented as a photograph of him:
His name is Jacob Walter Anderson. ‘He nearly choked her to death [forcing his penis down her throat]. He raped her violently. He left her passed out in her own vomit — the rape exam confirmed rape.’
‘If the 24-year-old successfully completes three years of deferred probation and pays a $400 fine, his criminal record will be wiped clean of the charge, and he won’t have to register as a sex offender, CNN affiliate KWKT said.’
Make him famous. The internet never forgets.
Similarly, @Ness_Qwik tweeted on 11 December:
“JACOB WALTER ANDERSON former president of Phi Delta Theta drugged, gagged, & repeatedly raped his victim til she lost consciousness. He got a $400 fine & will not have to register as a sex offender. Twitter please spread his name & face & fucking ruin him!”
JACOB WALTER ANDERSON former president of Phi Delta Theta drugged, gagged, & repeatedly raped his victim til she lost consciousness. He got a $400 fine & will not have to register as a sex offender. Twitter please spread his name & face & fucking ruin him! https://t.co/AvVKy76knt
— Virgin Jones (@Ness_Qwikk) December 11, 2018
And on 12 December, @Nicoxw1 tweeted what appeared to be photographs of Anderson and 19th District Court Judge Ralph Strother, along with the following message:
“On the left, Jacob Walter Anderson, who raped a virgin and left her unconscious. On the right, Judge Ralph Strother, who thought a $400 fine was appropriate. Remember their names and faces, this must follow them wherever they are for the rest of their lives.”
On the left, Jacob Walter Anderson, who raped a virgin and left her unconscious.
On the right, Judge Ralph Strother, who thought a $400 fine was appropriate.
Remember their names and faces, this must follow them wherever they are for the rest of their lives. pic.twitter.com/KTQFIiMti6
— NicoXW (@Nicoxw1) December 12, 2018
Some of these claims were accurate, while others lacked context or left out relevant information. However, the central and most substantial claim, that Anderson brutally raped the woman and left her unconscious, remains unproven because the case never went to trial and therefore crucial evidence is not publicly available, no examination of witnesses took place, and no jury issued a verdict.
First indictment: sexual assault, February 2016 to August 2018
Waco police arrested Anderson on 3 March 2016 over an incident that had taken place at a party almost two weeks earlier, as the Waco Tribune-Herald reported at the time:
The 20-year-old Phi Delta Theta president at Baylor University was arrested on a sexual assault charge for allegedly forcing himself on a woman outside of a fraternity party, Waco police Sgt. W. Patrick Swanton said. Jacob Anderson was charged after a female was taken to Baylor Scott & White Hillcrest Medical Center for a sexual-assault medical exam following a fraternity party at a house in the 2600 block of South Third Street on Feb. 21. Hospital officials notified Waco police of the alleged assault.
“The female said that she had been at a party at a fraternity in South Waco. She said she was handed a drink of some kind of punch and was told, ‘Here you go. Drink this,’” Swanton said, citing police reports. “She said shortly after that she became very disoriented, was taken outside by our suspect, who is Jacob Walter Anderson, and she said when they got outside, Anderson forcibly sexually assaulted her.”
According to the arrest affidavit, Anderson took the victim “to a secluded part of the grounds behind a tent in order to get some air, however once away from everyone else attending the party” he sexually assaulted the woman. Court documents stated that the victim lost consciousness, but awoke alone a short time later in the same outside area before returning to the house and finding a friend, who took her immediately to the hospital.
On 11 May, the office of McLennan County District Attorney Abelino Reyna indicted Anderson on four counts of sexual assault, a second-degree felony under Texas law punishable by between two and 20 years in prison. The indictment alleged that Anderson had repeatedly raped the young woman, both vaginally and orally.
In a victim impact statement submitted to Judge Ralph Strother, the young woman outlined her account of the night in question, using details and descriptions that some readers might find upsetting (Snopes is not identifying the woman in order to protect her privacy, as is standard practice in the news media in sexual assault cases):
On February 21, 2016 when I was a 19 year old Sophomore at Baylor University, Jacob Walter Anderson took me to a secluded area behind a tent and proceeded to violently and repeatedly rape me. He repeatedly raped me orally and vaginally while choking me, gagging me and physically forcing my body into positions so he could continue to rape me.
I had no control over my body and no way to stop him (please see my original written police statement). When I collapsed on the ground he pulled down his pants and shoved his penis in my mouth and down my throat gagging me. When he forcefully picked me up and shoved me into a wall to rape me vaginally from behind he calmly and coldly said “It’s fine. You’re fine.”
When I tried to pull up my pants or sit he shoved me to the ground and shoved his penis back down my throat and continued to choke me. When he forced me up again and started to rape me vaginally again I blacked out permanently. When I was completely unconscious he dumped me face down in the dirt and left me there to die. He had taken what he wanted, had proven his power over my body. He then walked home and went to bed without a second thought to the ravaged, half dead woman he had left behind.
When I regained consciousness I did not know where I was. I was lying in the grass and dirt and something sticky was on my face. As I continued to throw up I realized I had been vomiting and aspirating while I was unconscious. My friends immediately took me to the hospital and a SANE exam verified the rape. I had trauma and tearing and grass inside my vagina. I was treated for HIV and many STDs and told to take plan B. I had to get labs done two more times over the next year to make sure I do not have HIV or STDs. Everytime is stressful, wondering if I might still die as a result of being raped. The police arrived and took a report.
Plea bargain, August 2018
Over the course of two years, defense and prosecution attorneys supboenaed witnesses and examined evidence, and in February 2018 the woman filed a lawsuit against Anderson and 21 other members of the Baylor University Phi Delta Theta fraternity, accusing them of facilitating and contributing to her alleged sexual assault in multiple ways — including allegedly allowing her drink to be drugged, serving alcohol to minors, and in general, being negligent with respect to the safety of guests at the February 2016 party in question.
In his response to the lawsuit, Anderson denied each of the woman’s allegations and demanded a jury trial in civil court. As of 15 February 2019, that civil case was ongoing.
The criminal case against Anderson took a dramatic turn on 23 August 2018, when the Waco Tribune-Herald reported that the District Attorney’s office would be agreeing to a plea bargain in the case:
“A former Baylor University fraternity president who is charged with four counts of sexual assault has reached a plea agreement with the McLennan County District Attorney’s Office. Jacob Walter Anderson, 23, of Garland, is set to enter a plea Sept. 4, according to court records, which do not specify the terms of the plea bargain. The records show only that state prosecutors intend to file a superseding charging document, likely to a lesser charge than sexual assault, in exchange for Anderson’s plea.”
That decision was made without consulting the woman, and in a later court filing her attorney, Vic Feazell, wrote that she had in fact found out about the impending plea bargain by reading the Tribune-Herald on 23 August. That evening, the woman’s mother emailed Feazell, asking: “What is going on? Why are we reading that the D.A. [District Attorney] is offering a plea less than sexual assault? This man raped our daughter four times and left her to die!”
The same evening, the young woman’s father emailed McLennan County Assistant District Attorney Hilary LaBorde, the lead prosecutor against Anderson. According to that same court filing, he wrote: “A plea by this rapist to a lower crime is unacceptable and will not go away quietly. My daughter was brutally raped and left to die. Why is this rapist allowed to walk away from this crime? … The last time you spoke with my wife you said there would be no plea bargains.”
We asked the McLennan County District Attorney’s office to respond to the claim that LaBorde had assured the victim’s family there would be no plea bargain, but we did not receive a response in time for publication.
The day after the Tribune-Herald article was published, LaBorde emailed the young woman and her parents, apologizing that they had found out about the plea bargain through the news media, and outlining her reasons for dropping the sexual-assault charges.
She referred to a recent case involving Hunter Michael Morgan, also a Baylor University student, accused of sexually assaulting an unconscious female student after a party at his apartment. In that case, LaBorde and her fellow prosecutors had also offered a plea bargain that would have lessened the charges to unlawful restraint, but Morgan rejected the deal and was acquitted of sexual assault at trial. Here are some excerpts from LaBorde’s email:
I apologize for not telling you both about this agreement before there was a story in our newspaper. I didn’t know there would be a story about a plea that hasn’t occurred and about which nothing has been made public. I’ve accepted an offer on Jacob Anderson. It’s for probation on the charge of felony unlawful restraint not sexual assault — therefore, he will not have to register as a sex offender. I realize this is not the outcome we had hoped for or that I had originally offered, but I tried a very similar case to this one last month, and lost. Which was devastating to the family and victim involved.
In light of the similarities between the cases, it’s my opinion it would be worse to try Anderson and lose and have the entire matter wiped from his criminal history than to accept this plea offer. Not to mention the emotional damage [the woman] would have to deal with if she had to testify and then felt the jury thought she was a liar.
… The victim [in the Hunter Morgan case] had injuries to her genitals and the defendant’s DNA in her underwear. I actually thought the Hunter Morgan case was stronger than Jacob Anderson’s because Morgan admitted the victim was intoxicated, too intoxicated to consent, and he admitted he wasn’t intoxicated at all. One weakness I’ve always identified with Anderson is that he was drinking also — and although I think he’s exaggerating — he acts as though he was extremely intoxicated at the time he was at the frat party.
… To speak frankly as to the injuries in [the] Anderson [case], the research suggests that victims with no sexual experience are more likely to be injured because a sexual encounter is their first. So medically speaking, [the woman’s] innocence and lack of experience makes the medical evidence less helpful.
… In short, I think this jury [in the Morgan case] was looking for any excuse not to find an innocent-looking young defendant guilty. They engaged in a lot of victim blaming — and the behavior of that victim and [Anderson’s victim] is very similar.
… While I can’t imagine the upset that y’all will feel at believing Anderson isn’t getting what he deserves, I don’t want him to get away with his crime entirely. Part of his probation will be getting sex offender treatment and alcohol treatment. Without these terms, and if he’s just found not guilty, there will be no reason to think his conduct will be different the next time he’s in a bar and finds a woman who can’t defend herself. Given the similarities, I’m surprised the defense attorneys on Anderson are willing to plea him to anything and I don’t want to squander the opportunity for there to be some consequence for him that might alter his behavior in the future.
Four days later, on 28 August, the woman in the Anderson case emailed her attorney about LaBorde’s response in scathing terms, writing, “I truly feel betrayed by the one person who was able to get justice,” and adding:
“The case she lost [Texas vs. Hunter Michael Morgan] is nothing like my case … Why is she so worried about [Anderson] getting counseling instead of him being convicted for rape? Put him in jail and he will not be able to rape another person! He can get counseling in jail!”
The woman added that she felt “utter shock” at LaBorde’s rationale for offering Anderson a plea bargain, summarizing it as being “because she lost a completely different case so she didn’t trust a jury to do the right thing.”
We asked the McLennan County District Attorney’s office for a detailed explanation of the decision to offer Anderson a plea bargain, but we did not receive a response in time for publication.
In the end, the prosecutors did indeed drop all four charges of sexual assault against Anderson, and on 11 October 2018 indicted him on one charge of “unlawful restraint,” an offense defined as “intentionally or knowingly restraining another person.”
Under Texas law, unlawful restraint is typically a misdemeanor crime, but it becomes a third-degree felony if the assailant “recklessly exposes the victim to a substantial risk of serious bodily injury.” Anderson was indicted on third-degree felony unlawful restraint, a crime punishable in Texas by a prison sentence of between two and 10 years.
Under the terms of his plea agreement, Anderson pleaded “nolo contendere” (no contest) to the charge of unlawful restraint, an action that has the same effect as a guilty plea. However, in exchange for this plea, prosecutors agreed with Anderson’s lawyers that they would recommend to the judge the following punishment:
- Deferred adjudication probation: The no-contest plea is deferred for three years, and if the defendant does not violate the terms of his probation for those years, the case against him will be dismissed, and he will not have an unlawful-restraint conviction on his criminal record. If the defendant violates the terms of his probation, the court can convict him and impose a prison sentence of between two and 10 years.
- A $400 fine
- Psychological treatment and drug and alcohol treatment
The young woman and her attorney vociferously rejected the plea agreement and appealed to Judge Strother to dismiss it. On 22 November 2018, the woman submitted a lengthy and detailed statement to the court, pleading with the judge not to “set free the man who raped me and ruined my life”:
“I am writing this letter to hold the D.A. accountable to do their job and seek justice. To hold Jacob Anderson accountable for his crimes. He raped me. He almost killed me. A grand jury indicted him on four counts of sexual assault, not unlawful restraint … There is no reason why this case should not go to trial. I would like this case to go to trial. The evidence should be heard. Witnesses should be heard. A judge and jury of [Anderson’s] peers should decide if he is innocent or guilty and then and only then should he be sentenced and have to register as a sex offender.”
In the end, however, that jury trial never took place, and on 10 December 2018, Strother carried out the order of deferred adjudication probation for three years with several conditions for Anderson, including:
- Refrain from any violations of any law of Texas or any other state
- Refrain from alcohol or narcotics, submit to and pay for drug and alcohol testing and keep a remote breath alcohol monitor on him at all times
- Refrain from associating with anyone with a criminal record or “of disreputable or harmful character”
- Report to a probation officer every month, and report any changes of employment or address
- Stay within McLennan County and only leave the county with a probation officer’s permission
- Stay at his place of residence every night between 10pm and 6am
- Complete 300 hours of community service within two years
- Be supervised under the McLennan County sex offender program, complete a sex offenders group therapy program, and submit to psychosexual testing
- Refrain from any contact with the victim and pay the costs of any counseling or therapy she might need for one year
- Submit a DNA sample
- Refrain from any sexually explicit conversations using phone or internet, refrain from viewing any sexually explicit material and submit phone and computer equipment and records for review by a community supervision officer
- Allow a computer supervision officer to search his person, place of residence and possessions at any time, without a warrant
- Pay a variety of fines and fees, totaling around $1,000
Significantly, Anderson did not have to register as a sex offender because unlawful restraint was not one of the offenses that required such registration under Texas law. If he completes his three years of probation, he will not have to go to prison for his offense, and no conviction will appear on his criminal record. If he violates any of the terms of his probation, the court could convict him of unlawful restraint and impose a prison sentence of between two and 10 years.
Some of the factual claims in the social media posts highlighted above were accurate, for example the claims that Anderson was ordered to pay a fine of $400 and did not have to register as a sex offender. The photographs included in the memes did indeed show Anderson and Judge Strother.
However, the posts gave a limited picture of the penalties imposed upon Anderson. Notwithstanding the fact that many observers found the terms of the plea bargain to be woefully insufficient, Anderson’s punishment did extend beyond a mere $400 fine and included probation terms that, among other requirements, restricted his freedom of movement. None of the posts mentioned the fact that if Anderson violated any terms of his probation, he would be convicted of a felony and would face a prison sentence of up to 10 years.
We cannot make a determination on the veracity of the central and most substantial claim made in the memes, that Anderson repeatedly raped the woman and left her unconscious. Because no criminal trial took place, important evidence is not publicly available, no witnesses were examined, and no jury had the opportunity to issue a verdict. Anderson was never tried or convicted on any charges of sexual assault.
We invited attorneys for Anderson to respond to the many allegations made against him by the young woman, her attorney, and members of the public. We did not receive a response in time for publication, but two of the attorneys who represented Anderson in the criminal case against him, Mark Daniel and Jim Moore, have in the past publicly challenged the allegations of rape made by the woman.
Speaking after Judge Strother ordered deferred adjudication probation in December 2018, the attorneys told the Waco Tribune-Herald that the impact statement written by the woman at the center of the case had been “riddled with distortions and misrepresentations”:
“What seems to have been left out of her representation was some passionate kissing, groping and grinding by this girl and Mr. Anderson that occurred in front of more than 100 people at this party,” the attorneys said. “Many witnesses saw them kissing passionately several times during the party.”
The woman’s claims that she was choked is “absolutely contrary” to the physical evidence and her statements to police and medical personnel that night, they said. They also disputed her claim that she was drugged, saying no drugs were found in her system.
“She drank significantly before she ever came to the party, but her blood-alcohol level was barely above intoxication level (0.12) at the hospital,” Daniel said. “She made statements to two separate male students that this may have been consensual. Those boys said she seemed fine, seemed calm and collected immediately afterward as if nothing had happened. She appears in a photograph in the hospital an hour and a half later. She is smiling and eating a cheese cracker with a full grin on her face.”
The attorneys said there was no genetic evidence tying Anderson to the alleged offense and that the woman gave “numerous inconsistent statements to the prosecution.”
Attorney Vic Feazell called those claims outlandish. Speaking to the Tribune-Herald at the time, he said:
“It’s easy for them to say all that bullshit after the fact. That’s what trials are for … It is not fair for them to come out with this bullshit without anybody being able to be cross-examined. If they wanted to cross-examine her, we should have had a trial. I don’t believe that fraternity bullshit. They are all just sticking together … If they had such a damn good case, let’s go try it.”