NewsLEX 18 Investigates


Advocates weigh in on Fayette judge’s comments during rape case sentencing

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Posted at 7:00 PM, Jun 27, 2024

The victim in a Fayette County sexual assault case said that a judge’s comments at the suspect’s sentencing were a “gut punch.”

Jack Steele Watson was initially charged with first-degree rape in August of 2023.

Prosecutors offered a plea deal in the case, and Watson ultimately entered an Alford plea to the lesser charge of misdemeanor sexual misconduct. An Alford plea means that a defendant does not admit guilt, but acknowledges that there is enough evidence for a possible conviction.

Watson and the victim were University of Kentucky students at the time of the incident. The victim reported that they’d returned to her dorm after a night of drinking when she verbally stated she “did not wish to engage in sexual intercourse,” according to a criminal complaint filed in the case. She reported that Watson told her “no means yes to me” and raped her, according to the complaint.

At Watson’s sentencing in May, his attorney said that he’d matured a lot, and that he’d made “a very mature decision to accept the consequences.”

In her impact statement at the sentencing, the victim spoke about the pain and grief she’d gone through since what happened, and about how she was working to get past it.

Judge Julie Goodman told the victim she did a “wonderful job” in giving the statement and complimented her bravery.

The victim told LEX 18 this week that Goodman’s other comments before handing down Watson’s sentence were a “gut punch.”

“I’m sorry both of you were so young, so immature,” Goodman said at the hearing. “As always, there’s alcohol or drugs involved, in this case it was alcohol on both sides, which obviously puts everyone’s judgment at risk, and that with the age creates unfortunately horrific situations. But this court would hope that for neither of you, that you in any way let this label you.”

After watching video of the entire hearing, rape survivor and advocate Hilary Sykes and Stephanie Theakston with the city’s Domestic & Sexual Violence Prevention Coalition said that Goodman’s comments shifted blame to the victim.

“Bringing up the fact they were both intoxicated really is placing some blame on the survivor for her role in the violence that took place against her,” Theakston said.

Sykes said that as a survivor, she’s heard similar comments over the years.

“You should be believed,” Sykes said. “You should be respected and listened to and I feel like those kinds of statements of, you're too young and drunk are not something that should ever be said.”

Theakston said that sexual violence is not about maturity or intoxication, but about “a desire to exert control over another person.”

“I'd like for all judges to understand that when they place any blame for violence committed against a victim or survivor it really is removing responsibility from the person that committed the violent act and prevents future survivors from coming forward,” Theakston said.

Misdemeanor sexual misconduct, the charge Watson pleaded to, can carry up to a year in prison. In the end, he was sentenced to a year’s probation, avoiding prison time.