PROVO, Utah (AP) — A judge in heavily Mormon Utah who was sentencing a former church bishop for rape called the defendant an “extraordinary, good man” who did something wrong.
Judge Thomas Low appeared to become emotional when he sentenced Keith Robert Vallejo on Wednesday to up to life in prison for 10 counts of forcible sexual abuse and one count of object rape, The Salt Lake Tribune reported (http://bit.ly/2peFjoA ).
“The court has no doubt that Mr. Vallejo is an extraordinary, good man,” Low said. “But great men sometimes do bad things.”
One of Vallejo’s victims said she was shocked by the judge’s sympathy, saying it felt like he cared more about Vallejo than the victims.
The abuse occurred in Provo, a Mormon stronghold that is home to Brigham Young University. Low attended BYU, where almost all students are Mormon, but it is not clear whether he is a member of the faith.
The woman was 19 when she said Vallejo, her brother-in-law, groped her multiple times while she attended BYU in 2013 and stayed at his house. A second victim told police that Vallejo raped and groped her while she slept on his couch in 2014 when she was 17.
A spokesman for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints said Vallejo was released from his position as bishop after church leaders found out about the accusations.
In the faith, bishops are regular church members who lead their congregations for four to five years. The position is unpaid and part of the religion’s lay clergy structure that makes it different from many other religions.
“Judge Low’s comments are vile and inexcusable, but they reflect a larger problem with the Utah judiciary,” said Troy Williams, of Equality Utah, which pushes for equal rights for the LGBT community. “We need more diversity on the bench.”
Low was a county attorney before becoming a judge, according to his Utah courts biography. It is not clear if the judge had a prior relationship with Vallejo.
Low did not immediately return a request for comment submitted through Utah court spokesman Geoff Fattah.
Information from: The Salt Lake Tribune, http://www.sltrib.com