More than 100,000 people have signed an online petition calling for the removal of an Oklahoma judge after he let eight rapists — most of them accused of horrific sex crimes against children — avoid prison time.
The Oklahoman reports District Judge Wallace Coppedge, who hears cases in five southern Oklahoma counties, approved 15 years’ probation for Benjamin L. Petty, a legally blind cook at Falls Creek Baptist church camp who pleaded guilty to brutally raping and sodomizing a 13-year-old Texas girl camper in 2016.
David Pyle, the prosecutor in the case, was forced to resign after failing to consult with his supervisor, District Attorney Craig Ladd, who said he “strongly disagreed with the lenient manner” in which Petty was prosecuted.
There have been seven other cases in which Coppedge, who has been a judge for seven years, has let rapists avoid prison time. Most of these outcomes resulted from plea deals struck in problematic cases usually involving victims who were unable or unwilling to testify. In one case, the families of the 19-year-old defendant and his 15-year-old victim — who were romantically involved — were friends, and the victim and her mother had asked an assistant district attorney to dismiss the case.
Perhaps the most egregious case involved Steven Wayne Anglin, a Dickson resident charged in 2014 with raping multiple adopted foster children, ages 7 to 13. Coppedge allowed a plea deal in which Anglin was sentenced to 20 years’ probation and relinquished his parental rights.
In one 2013 case, Coppedge sentenced a Kingston man to 10 years’ probation for attempting to procure child pornography. The man, whose computer allegedly contained child pornography, had faced a more serious charge of indecent proposal to a child after he allegedly asked to touch and take nude photos of his 15-year-old niece. The district attorney’s office said it made the plea deal because the victim and her mother had moved out of state and could not return to testify at the trial.
Judges are not required to accept plea deals. Several judges told The Oklahoman they would never strike a plea bargain in the case of child rape.
Despite Pyle’s resignation, Ladd defended his office’s actions, arguing he had little chance of proving some of the charges to a jury. He also said he was concerned about how victims might be psychologically affected by a jury trial.
“The prosecutor chose what most people would agree was the best,” he told The Oklahoman.
Emily Redman, district attorney for Atoka, Bryan and Coal counties, also said probation was not an unusual sentence for sex offenders.
“On occasion there are factors which lead prosecutors to extend offers of probation in an effort to create a felony record and require a defendant to register as a sex offender, rather than take a risk of acquittal at trial,” Redman told The Oklahoman.
However, more than 100,000 people disagree and have signed a Care2 petition demanding Coppedge be removed from the bench for the “dangerously lenient sentence” in the Petty case.
Last month, Oklahoma state Rep. Mike Ritze (R- Broken Arrow) filed a resolution in the state House of Representatives to have Coppedge removed, although Ritze has since dropped his effort.
“We’ve got bigger fish to fry,” he told The Oklahoman.