Justin Schneider and Jacob Anderson Go Free; Cyntoia Brown Does Not
Justin Schneider was driving when he saw a woman asking for a ride. He stopped to offer her one. He refused to drive her where she had asked to go. He took her somewhere else instead. He choked her until she passed out. Then he masturbated on her. When she woke up, he explained that her thinking she was going to die was the only way he could pleasure himself. She called the police immediately. She had Schneider’s license plate, as well as a tissue he had given her to clean up. Police found Schneider almost immediately. Schneider did not deny the encounter.
State prosecutors worked out a plea bargain with him. He was credited with time served for having worn an ankle monitor while being at home with his family. He served no jail time. He was not forced to register as a sex offender. Andrew Grannik was the prosecutor that worked out the deal. Grannik claimed he could not contact Schneider’s victim to encourage her participation in a trial or to notify her about the pending plea bargain. He said that Schneider’s plea bargain was, “his one pass – it’s not really a pass – but given the conduct, one might consider that it is.” The judge overseeing the deal warned Schneider, “This can never happen again.” Grannik’s boss publicly praised him.
Schneider’s victim has since sued Schneider and has declared that she provided Grannik with plenty of avenues to communicate with her. Her lawsuit claims that Schneider was given preferential treatment by the state, both because of who he is and who she isn’t. There is no reason to disbelieve her claim.
Jacob Walter Anderson found a 19-year-old woman at a fraternity party. He was the president of the fraternity. She described consuming punch that had been provided to her. She described immediately feeling woozy. She described that – none of this is easy to read – Anderson led her to a secluded area and raped her repeatedly. She passed out. When she woke up, she found a friend who took her to Baylor Scott & White (a nearby hospital) to receive a sexual medical assault exam. A grand jury indicted Anderson on four counts of sexual assault.
State prosecutors worked out a plea bargain with him. He plead no contest to a charge of unlawful restraint as part of that plea bargain, which means that although he does not admit any guilt, he will not defend himself. Anderson will get three years of probation, be expected to pay a $400 fine, and will be expected to attend counseling. Anderson will not serve jail time or be forced to register as a sex offender. Hillary LaBorde was the prosecutor who worked out the deal. She released a statement in its aftermath, declaring that Anderson’s plea bargain was the best she could hope for. LaBorde insisted that there were a secret set of facts which made Anderson’s plea bargain much more reasonable; she refused to release those facts to the public; LaBorde also claimed that, “our jurors aren’t ready to blame rapists and not victims when there isn’t concrete proof of more than one victim.” Ralph Strother, the judge who approved the deal, declared that those opposed to it were misinformed; court records showed that there was both DNA and medical evidence of rape.
Anderson’s victim was in the room when the plea deal was announced. She has been understandably infuriated since the incident and by its handling. She has criticized LaBorde specifically but went after the judge after he agreed to Anderson’s plea bargain, noting that his willingness to go along with it served only to threaten the safety and well-being of future women Anderson might encounter. There is no reason to disbelieve her claim.
Johnny Mitchell Allen was a 43-year-old real estate broker and Army veteran. He met Cyntoia Brown at a Sonic Drive-In, where he agreed to pay her $150 for sex. She rode with him to his house. She shot him to death. Brown fled with guns, cash, and behind the wheel of Allen’s vehicle. Brown claimed she feared for her life; forensic evidence suggested that Allen was sleeping at the time he was shot.
She was tried as an adult and sentenced to life in prison. Prosecutors offered no leniency to account for her background, her circumstance, or her situation. Her own explanation for her having killed Allen was ignored; prosecutors insisted that she had planned to rob and kill Allen. Prosecutors offered her no plea bargains nor any opportunities for a second chance nor any opportunities for anything but a life behind a prison’s walls. As a teenager, she was sentenced to life. She is now 30. She appealed her conviction in 2012. The Tennessee Supreme Court just decided, after an appeal, that her sentence could be reduced to a minimum of 51 years. She will be eligible for parole when she is 67.
The law is such a miraculous thing: all at once so malleable and so rigid. Prosecutors were willing to engineer sweetheart deals for rapists like Schneider and Anderson, despite women who voluntarily and willingly endured everything that the justice system insisted that they must if they wanted their lives to matter. And yet prosecutors were unwilling to acknowledge Brown’s humanity despite her being an abused 16-year-old girl being sold for sex.
Maybe these are three unrelated cases though, each having happened in different places, each having involved different actors, each having involved different details, each not to be understood as evidence of a bigger cultural failing to take some lives as seriously as others. To understand them in that fashion though is simply to encourage more of the same.