By Rory Carroll
(Reuters) – Signatures on a petition to impeach a Montana judge who handed down a 60-day sentence for a man who admitted to raping his 12-year-old daughter approached 80,000 on Friday in the latest case of citizens targeting judges for doling out what they believe are light sentences for sexual crimes.
District Judge John McKeon sentenced the 40-year-old man to 60 days of incarceration and probation, far less than the plea agreement recommendation of at least 25 years in prison, according to court records.
Reuters is not naming the man in order to protect the identity of the victim.
The Montana case comes in the wake of a controversial six-month jail sentence for sexual assault of an unconscious woman by former Stanford University swimmer Brock Turner, which caused an uproar because it was far shorter than the six years prosecutors had sought.
That case led California lawmakers to pass legislation to ban probation in similar assault cases and expand the definition of rape. It also set off an effort to recall the judge who handed down the sentence.
In the Montana case, the petition on the website Change.org set up by the group Justice4Montana says the sentence “does not match the crime and fails to acknowledge the horrors the victim had to endure.”
McKeon did not respond to a request for comment on Friday, but he wrote in his judgment that the exception to the mandatory sentence was appropriate since prosecutors did not challenge a psychosexual evaluation that said the man could be safely treated and supervised as a sex offender in the community.
He also cited the lack of direct input from the victim or an advocate on behalf of the victim to the court.
McKeon also cited letters written by the girl’s mother and grandmother asking for leniency.
The defendant’s suspended sentence comes with such restrictions as a ban on owning firearms or pornography, or using the internet without permission from his parole officer and a sexual offender therapist. Any violation of those conditions would likely lead to “significant time in state prison,” McKeon wrote.
Deputy Valley County Attorney Dylan Jensen said on Friday he was “disappointed” in the sentence, but respected the judge’s decision. He declined to say whether an appeal was planned.
McKeon is scheduled to retire next month and Justice4Montana hopes an impeachment would stop him from receiving his government-sponsored pension.
Supporters of the impeachment effort are also in the process of filing formal complaints with the Judicial Standards Commission, a Justice4Montana representative said.