When the jury found a former Mormon bishop guilty of 10 counts of sexual assault, Fourth District Judge Thomas Low could barely keep his composure.
But the victims’ ordeals weren’t what caused his distress. Before sentencing Keith Vallejo, the judge got tear-eyed and declared:
“The court has no doubt that Mr. Vallejo is an extraordinary, good man. But great men sometimes do bad things.”
The Salt Lake Tribune reports :
Fourth District Judge Thomas Low took long pauses and became choked up as he announced his decision to order a prison term for Keith Robert Vallejo, whom a jury convicted of 10 counts of second-degree felony forcible sexual abuse and one count of object rape, a first-degree felony. Two women testified at the trial that he had inappropriately touched them during separate stays at his Provo home in 2013 and 2014.
Vallejo’s sister-in-law, Julia Kirby, was 19 and staying with him while attending Brigham Young University. There, she told police, he groped her on several occasions while she pretended to be asleep. A second victim told police she was also groped and raped by Vallejo while crashed on the same couch back in 2014, when she was 17 years old.
It therefore comes as no surprise that Kirby — who was in the court room at the time and bravely talked to the press and allowed them to identify her — told KUTV 2News:
“For him to say that in a court room in front the victim who was abused and raped by this man, that he is a great person, to me was unacceptable and unprofessional,”
Turner Bitton from the Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault pointed out that when a judge or other authority figure like Thomas Low praises a predator like Keith Vallejo, that amounts to blaming the victim.
“At the end of the day, we’re still going to tell you that your perpetrator was a good person, they made mistake and somehow it was still your responsibility.”
Vallejo insisted on his innocence the entire time and Low never once called him on his refusing to take responsibility. Julia Kirby said:
“He [Judge Thomas Low] never once said to Keith [Vallejo], who he had an opportunity to address that ‘You are guilty, and you need to own up to these crimes.’ He said, ‘You’re a great man, and I believe that you’re this wonderful person.”
This wasn’t the first time Vallejo received special treatment from the court. When the jury convicted him back in February, Low allowed him to walk free until his sentencing. It’s hard to understand the judge’s motivations, but perhaps he had trouble getting passed the fact that — until the Church of Latter Day Saints (LDS) stripped him of his office in 2015 as the accusations came to light — Vallejo was once a bishop.
Strangely, a 2016 Judicial Performance Evaluation Commission Report has found no prior fault with Judge Thomas Low’s conduct in the court room.
Appointed in 2009, Judge Thomas Low received praise from survey respondents for his attentiveness to proceedings and the respect he shows for courtroom participants. Respondents commended his professional and constructive interactions with both staff and participants. They most frequently described Judge Low as polite, knowledgeable, and calm.
93 percent of people surveyed had positive things to say about him.
Watch: Judge Thomas Low draws fire for tearfully praising convicted rapist before sentencing.
Featured image: Composite with video screengrabs via 2 KUTV.