By on February 10, 2015

DISSTongueRed Top rape: The prosecution rests

The most difficult thing about writing this column is how alienating it can be. After a few years of writing an opinion piece, a journalist doesn’t have many friends left. But Props & Disses and its author are not in the business of making friends, and neither should Teton County Prosecutor’s Office be so inclined.

With all respect to Steve Weichman and the people who work for him, the reduced sentence for Emily Kathryn Yarbrough is a disgrace. The 28-year-old was offered a plea deal and sentenced to 30 days for statutory rape. Thirty days. I’ve had vacations that lasted longer.

I understand the inclination to view sexual battery and assault in a different light when stereotypical gender roles are reversed, and the victim is a consenting male close to the age when he is considered an adult by the state. I am fully aware that sexual relations between two consenting parties are not the same as forcible rape.

Still, the law is the law and it is not up to the prosecution to show compassion to the point of disproportionate leniency. It is the prosecution’s job to aggressively litigate on the public’s behalf in the same manner a defense attorney will fight tooth-and-nail to defend his or her client. Leniency and compassion are matters for a judge or jury. The Prosecutor’s Office has no business being in the mercy business.

Weichman is a caring man. He is a good man. He’s not wrong to feel that Yarbrough’s life would be severely tainted with a felony sexual assault conviction and the resulting damage to her reputation would limit her options in the future. She would be required to register as a sex offender. However, bringing this empathy to work can be detrimental to the state.

Too often Weichman’s office has offered plea deals and reduced sentences. I have accused the office in the past of doing so in order to save taxpayer money by avoiding long and expensive trials. There’s more to it than that, I know, and I don’t believe that is the case here. But whatever the motivation – and especially if it is driven by sympathy – the public is not served when criminals are cut a deal time after time.

Yarbrough was in a position of authority dealing with delicate minors who already are effed up enough to have landed at Red Top Meadows. To take further advantage of these vulnerable wards is unconscionable. How would you feel if you were the parent of a minor who entrusted your child to a facility like this only to learn the professionally trained staff is taking your kid to bed? How would you feel as a parent of a child enrolled in the next school Yarbrough teaches at when her history is wiped clean by the ramifications of Teton County’s wrist slap? And what now of Red Top’s tarnished reputation?

This county was intent to extradite a 94-year-old skeleton on his deathbed for similar crimes committed decades ago. For Yarbrough, who carried on a month-long relationship with a minor just last summer, the county was content with four weeks in jail and an expunged record. Not merely content, but county prosecutors had to work hard to wiggle around state statute to make their benevolence even legal. That’s not acceptable. That’s not justice.

Prosecuting criminals is not only about putting away defendants who take the stand and make the same teary-eyed admissions of guilt and promises to do better. It’s more about the next defendant, and the one after that. Too often they are the same faces sitting in the same courtrooms facing the same crimes because a prosecutor or judge had an attack of compassion.

Soft prosecutors make the job of law enforcement more difficult and dangerous. Our cops are being kicked, punched and sued when they make arrests. Does being tough on crime create overflowing jails and prisons? Too bad. Build more.

We wonder why we have an ever-growing number of heinous crimes being committed. We ask “what’s wrong with society?” while shaking our heads in disbelief at the headlines. What’s wrong is that a 15-year-old caught spray-painting graffiti on a stop sign is given probation. The bookkeeper that skims money off the top of a construction company’s books is handed a reduced sentence for restitution. And a rapist with the responsibility to help rehabilitate a minor who could very well be where he is for sexual assault himself, is meted a paltry punishment more suited for jaywalking. 

About Jake Nichols

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