Benjamin Lawrence Petty received only probation after arranging a plea-deal pertaining to the rape of a 13-year-old girl. Now, thousands are calling for the removal of the judge who made the decision.
In June of 2016, Petty had bound his victim with rope and raped her while working as a cook at Baptist church camp. He threatened her with violence if she told anyone about the incident, according to NewsOK, the online version of the Oklahoman.
In January of 2017, Petty pleaded guilty to charges of first-degree rape, forcible sodomy and rape by instrumentation.
A judge served Petty to 15 years probation and two years with an ankle monitor. He will also be forced to register as a sex offender.
The reason for the leniency, according to Judge Wallace Coppedge, is because Petty is legally blind.
Public reaction to the sentencing was so intense that a prosecutor connected to the case, David Pyle, resigned shortly after the news broke. Now, an online petition to have Judge Coppedge removed has garnered 102,000, according to The Washington Post. The calls for Coppedge's firing were echoed by an Oklahoma lawmaker who filed a resolution in the House seeking to penalize Coppedge. (The proposal has yet to be voted on. The Oklahoma defense bar has opposed the resolution.)
The petition, which continues to gain traction, is a harsh indictment of Coppedge's decisions pertaining to Petty.
“Even though the plea was negotiated with the victim’s parents’ permission, the terms of the sentence are absolutely ridiculous,” the petition reads. “The fact that Petty was legally blind does not bar him from being able to serve prison time for his heinous crimes.”
Coppedge's history pertaining to child rape cases has now also come under scrutiny. Following the release of a review published in The Oklahoman, citizens began questioning why Coppedge had allowed confessed child rapists and convicted pedophiles to walk free at least seven times before Petty's case.
Craig Ladd, a district attorney, attempted to justify Coppedge's decisions. He said that in many of those cases there were problems with witness testimony and evidence, leaving Coppedge with little recourse with regards to harsher sentences.
Ladd, however, did not attempt to rationalize Coppedge's decision when it came to Petty, saying that he “strongly disagreed with the lenient manner" by which Petty was served.
Coppedge has not offered a comment on the situation.
Meanwhile, the victim and her family are seeking around $75,000 in damages in a separate lawsuit filed against the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma, Country Estates Baptist Church and First Baptist Church of Terrell, Tex., the facility at which the rape occurred.
The family of the victim says they only consented to the lenient plea deal because they were told no other options existed.
“… The family was told by the district attorney’s office that the rapist would not serve any meaningful prison time due to his medical conditions. The family was not provided any other alternative," said Bruce Robertson, the family's attorney.
[Photo: Judge Wallace Coppedge via Oklahoma State Courts Network; Benjamin Lawrence Petty via Oklahoma Department of Corrections]