Calls for Judge's Removal After 18-Year-Old Sexual Assault Defendant Given Probation

An online petition has over 17,000 supporters.

August 25, 2016, 2:59 PM

— -- An online petition is calling for a judge in Massachusetts to be removed from the bench after an 18-year-old male accused of sexually assaulting two classmates was sentenced to two years of probation.

David Becker of East Longmeadow, Massachusetts, was charged with two counts of rape and one count of indecent assault and battery, according to court documents, after an April incident in which he allegedly sexually assaulted two girls who were sleeping in a bed after a house party. Becker and the alleged victims, who are not being identified, were all seniors.

As a part of his probation, Becker must remain drug- and alcohol-free and not contact the victims, the court documents state. He also has to undergo an evaluation for sex offender treatment, according to the Hampden District Attorney's Office.

The district attorney's office said that if Becker does not violate his probation, he will not have to register as a sex offender, as the charges will be dismissed at the completion of probation.

The creator of the online petition called the probation ruling "a slap on the wrist"; prosecutors in the case had recommended two years in prison. The petition calling for the removal of the judge, Thomas Estes of the Palmer District Court, has over 17,000 supporters.

PHOTO: Palmer District Court Judge Thomas Estes in an undated photo.
Palmer District Court Judge Thomas Estes in an undated photo.

Michael Albano, a member of the Massachusetts Governor's Council, which confirms judicial nominees, wrote a letter Tuesday to Paul Dawley, chief justice of the Massachusetts District Courts, requesting an administrative review of Becker's case.

While Estes declined to comment today to ABC News on the case, during a plea hearing Estes said that a letter from one of the victims saying she did not want to ruin Becker's life weighed heavily in the decision to sentence him to two years’ probation.

At a plea hearing this summer, Becker's lawyer, Thomas Rooke, argued that his client, a former high school athlete, had already suffered because of his actions.

Estes appeared to give weight to that argument, saying, "There have already been significant consequences, collateral consequences to simply being charged with the offense in the first place." He added that a harsher punishment would "slam a lot of doors" for Becker.

Rooke described Becker as a model student who deserved to go to college.

"He was a star. He was a rising star ... and then suddenly, April 2, 2016, he's at a house party. There's no parents. There's alcohol, there's marijuana, there's testosterone, there's estrogen. A perfect mix for a nuclear disaster. And he makes a bad decision," Rooke said.

According to police reports, Becker told investigators that when one of the girls "didn't protest" when he digitally penetrated her, he assumed it was "OK." He denied having any physical contact with the other alleged victim.

One of the alleged victims told police that Becker texted her after the incident, writing, "Very sorry about last night I was very much in the wrong." The girl replied, "Don't even worry about it it's all good."

The Hampden District Attorney's Office recommended two years in prison for Becker, which it considered "appropriate and fair, based on the facts and circumstances of the case," a district attorney's office spokesman said.

Scott Berkowitz, the president of the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, was disappointed by the decision.

"I think that the judge's sympathies were misplaced in this case. This offender's college career shouldn't have been the priority. Punishment for the act he committed should be the priority," Berkowitz said.

Becker's case comes on the heels of another sexual assault case that caused outrage: the six-month jail sentence given to former Stanford swimmer Brock Turner after he allegedly assaulted an unconscious woman.

The online petition with over 17,000 supporters compares Becker's case to Turner's, saying it is "another instance of a white athlete receiving a slap on the wrist for a violent sexual crime."

While the Becker and Turner cases are somewhat similar, ABC News' chief legal analyst, Dan Abrams, noted that the outcomes were different: Turner was incarcerated and faces the lifetime punishment of being on the sex offender registry.

Another difference is that the case against Turner included witnesses, who stopped the assault, "which made it an easier case to prosecute and potentially convict," said Abrams.

"One of the things that people need to remember is that part of these cases involves being able to prove it beyond a reasonable doubt," he said. "And there are going to be times that prosecutors are going to take a plea deal ... even if they believe in their heart of hearts that something horrible happened."

He added, "The prosecutors' decision to enter into a plea deal is most often about their concern either about being able to prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt or, in some of these cases, for putting the victims through the trauma of a trial."