After waiting for 16 years to see her rapist punished, a young woman was informed that the judge had a special “offer” for the convict. However, the deal that the judge intended to resolve the issue would soon spark outrage among citizens.
When she was just 15 years old, a young woman was attacked by then 28-year-old Sedrick Hills, who proceeded to rape her. Although she sought prison for her abuser, it took the wheels of justice 16 years to finally convict the suspect of his crimes.
The victim’s hope for a trial was fulfilled after DNA evidence tied the now 44-year-old Baton Rouge man to the rape of the now 31-year-old victim, charging him with forcible rape and one other sexual assault-related count. However, just when she was about to see her rapist locked away for good, the Louisiana judge made an unexpected offer to the defendant that shocked the courtroom.
According to The Advocate, during sentencing, State District Judge Bruce Bennett turned to Hills and offered the convicted rapist a reduced sentence if the female victim agreed to a $150,000 payout. The deal was so unprecedented that the judge had to preface his offer with a short justification, stating, “This will not be considered to be an extortionary offer.”
“If this mitigation alternative is offensive to the victim, she simply needs to do nothing,” Bennett wrote in a filing titled “Supplemental reasons for sentencing.”
“If the defendant has no funds, she need do nothing. If the defendant deposits the funds, she is at least partially empowered to control her own economic destiny and receive compensation for this reprehensible and life-changing action,” he stated.
Although the court was understandably shocked by Judge Bennett’s statement, the female victim ultimately replied that she would never consider such an offer. She explained that the lengthy justice procedures left her “broken” and that she wants to see her attacker in prison for 16 years — the same amount of time that she was left in limbo waiting for his conviction.
Outside the courtroom, the woman responded to the proposed monetary offer by saying, “I don’t think money is going to provide any restitution for what he’s done.”
Judge Bennett respected the victim’s decision to refuse his offer and sentenced Hills to 12 years in prison. He added that the deal was only made with the intention of “empowering” the victim and that he never meant to cause any offense.
Prosecutor Sue Bernie admitted that she was taken aback by Judge Bennett’s offer, as she had never heard of a judge making such a deal before. She reiterated that the victim didn’t need financial compensation to feel empowered because she had already empowered herself by testifying against the man who had sexually assaulted her.
“What’s important for her to know is it’s not the court that is empowering her. She has empowered herself,” Bernie said. “She dug deep. She was empowered when she had the courage to confront him and tell the jury.”
Judge Bruce Bennett, who retired from the 21st Judicial District Court several years ago, had taken the case as an ad hoc judge to sentence Sedrick Hills. His unusual offer later received such a backlash that he released a document explaining his reasoning on the matter and insisting that, if the victim changes her mind in the near future, the offer still stands. He alleges that this will leave the victim with the means “to control the progress of this defendant’s punishment and her own future.”
If Hills were to deposit $150,000 with the District Attorney’s Office and his victim decided to accept the reparations, Bennett said he would have the discretion “to re-sentence the defendant to perhaps a modest reduction of time based upon the remorse exhibited to the victim and all other relevant circumstances.”
Some people have accused Judge Bennett of selling justice to the highest bidder. However, he insists that he merely hoped to allow Hills’ victim to decide the fate of both her rapist and herself.
“Some may criticize this option as a form of the ‘rich buying justice.’ This also is not true — the court has no information that the defendant is wealthy, only that he may have a windfall coming in the future,” he added.
A majority of the comments expressed over Judge Bennett’s deal were negative, arguing that it was akin to turning the rape into prostitution. Others felt that the judge’s offer was well-intentioned but in poor taste.
Despite the outrage, the victim explained that she harbors no ill feelings toward Judge Bennett for his unconventional offer, adding that she truly believes he had only the best of intentions in leaving the choice up to her. However, she reiterates that she wants to see her rapist in prison for as long as possible and only regrets that he cannot be given a harsher sentence.