By Tracey Kaplan . . . PALO ALTO — Sean Ryan thought everything was set: he’d struck a deal to serve a year in county jail for having sex with a 15-year-old girl who claimed she was an adult.
But when the victim showed up at Ryan’s sentencing hearing to ask that he be sent to state prison and required to register as a sex offender for life, the case took a surprising turn.
In a rare move, Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Vincent J. Chiarello pulled the plug on the deal he had helped negotiate, which had included letting Ryan voluntarily go to jail three months before the agreement was to be finalized. In explaining his change of heart, the judge said he agreed with the victim that Ryan would be a danger to others unless he were imprisoned.
Defense lawyers claim Ryan was “Turner-ed,’’ a term they coined to define what happens when a judge throws the book at a defendant to avoid becoming the target of the outrage that has fueled a recall movement against Judge Aaron Persky. Last summer, Persky gave former Stanford athlete Brock Turner a relatively lenient jail sentence for sexual assault after the victim’s powerful statement about her assault went viral.
Chiarello declined to comment and, as a judge, cannot discuss pending cases. But Ryan’s lawyer and other defense attorneys at the Palo Alto courthouse noted that Chiarello’s decision came three days after recall advocates, in a well-publicized move, filed notice to put their campaign to oust Persky on the June ballot.
“Judge Chiarello gave a whole raft of reasons for busting Ryan’s plea deal, all of which I thought were absolute baloney,’’ said Philip Schnayerson, Ryan’s lawyer. “The reason for his decision is he noticed one of his fellow judges was being filed on for a recall three days earlier and he was terrified.’’
In contrast, the judge later that morning spared another man from prison in a sex case, noted public defender Gary Goodman. The difference? No victims showed up to speak at the sentencing of Rob Chapman. Chapman had admitted going on “missions” to look for young girls to rub up against and was convicted of felony charges for inappropriately touching three girls at a grocery store and a mall by grabbing their buttocks or stroking their hair.
Stanford law professor Michele Dauber, who is leading the movement to recall Persky, says there’s no evidence that the political campaign played any role in Chiarello’s decision to set aside Ryan’s plea agreement. She praised Chiarello for listening to the victim, something Persky’s critics said he failed to do. According to a transcript of the hearing, Chiarello cited several other factors in his decision, including that the defendant had communicated online in a sexual manner with other girls he knew were underage.
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