MURRAY COUNTY, Okla. – After a stunning plea agreement was reached in a rape case, Oklahoma state lawmakers are working to pass a resolution to ask for a judge to be removed from the bench.
In the summer of 2016, a 13-year-old girl said she was raped by 36-year-old Benjamin Lawrence Petty while she was at a church camp at Falls Creek.
According to court documents, the victim said that Petty told her he was going to show her how to perform tricks on a device he brought to the camp when he suddenly pulled her into his cabin.
“Petty closed the door to his bedroom, tied [victim’s] hands behind her back, pulled down her jeans, pushed her face down on his bed, and violently raped and sodomized her,” the document states.
He was later arrested and charged with forcible sodomy, first-degree rape, and rape by instrumentation. He faced a maximum sentence of life in prison.
In January, Petty accepted a plea deal and was sentenced to just 15 years of probation in exchange for pleading guilty.
Under the terms of the plea deal, Petty will also be required to wear an ankle monitor for the next two years and register as an aggravated sex offender.
After the conditions of the case were released, the public was stunned.
David Pyle, who prosecuted the case, resigned as the Murray County Assistant District Attorney late last month.
“You have to take into consideration the facts of this case,” Pyle told News 4. “Is this a bad deal? Yes, it is; however, everyone involved in this case agreed with that recommendation.”
The victim’s attorney said they agreed to the plea deal because they were told Petty wouldn’t receive any meaningful jail time even if the case was sent to trial. However, Pyle says that the family’s attorney never asked for another option.
Petty’s attorney, Lee Berlin, told News 4 in a statement that the plea agreement was his idea.
“ADA David Pyle strongly resisted a suspended sentence recommendation during most of the litigation. However, as I developed a defense that severely impaired the prosecution’s ability to secure a victory, I believe the State became more receptive,” said Berlin. “In my preparation for trial, I developed several facts and a case theory that was so powerful that, in my opinion, it made it almost impossible for the State to win.”
Now, the judge who presided over the case is under fire.
Thousands of people signed a petition to remove Murray County District Judge Wallace Coppedge from his position in the court.
“District Judge Wallace Coppedge should not have allowed the plea deal. Sign now to have him removed from the bench immediately,” the petition states.
However, officials said it is not that simple to have a judge removed.
Instead, a complaint has to be filed with the Oklahoma Council on Judicial Complaints.
From there, an investigator looks into the claims and recommendations can be made to several different entities, including the Oklahoma Supreme Court.
“Judges have discretion. I mean that’s part of their job,” Joi Miskel, a legal expert, told News 4.
While Miskel does not personally agree with the sentence, she said it’s rare for a judge to go against a plea deal when all parties are in agreement.
“In a sense, he was just doing his job. He was going along with what the state and defense agreed upon. However, I think people are upset about the sentence itself. And, he didn’t determine that sentence. That was the state of Oklahoma,” Miskel said.
Now, state lawmakers are getting involved in the case.
While lawmakers don't have the power to remove a judge from the bench, they say they are planning to pass a resolution to ask for the judge to be removed.
The resolution could be voted on later this week, and calls for the case to be considered by the Oklahoma Court on the Judiciary.
The ACLU of Oklahoma released the following statement:
“In the wake of a failed prosecution of a heinous crime, seemingly well intentioned lawmakers are missing the point. While such a light sentence may be inconsistent with the severity of the crime, it was not the judge who proposed, negotiated, recommended, and defended that sentence. Even if the judge’s actions in this case fall well short of what we would hope for in a case like this, any failure by the judge pales in comparison to the failure of the District Attorney whose office misled a victim’s family and sought to punish a brutal rape with a paper sentence.
District Attorneys have immense control over the sentencing process. In fact there is no single person who has a greater impact on the direction of our criminal justice system than locally elected District Attorneys. The best opportunity to express concern with the handling of this and other cases will present itself in the 2018 elections. If we want to see a change in how prosecutors set their priorities and shape the criminal justice system, we must make those demands at the ballot box.”