In what a Northern California district attorney is calling a case “more egregious than Brock Turner” and deserving of a stiffer punishment, a 20-year-old man will serve only four months in jail for drugging and raping a family member.
Del Norte County Superior Court Judge William H. Follett sentenced Nolan Bruder on May 17 to three years’ probation and 240 days in county jail for raping a drugged victim despite new legislation mandating prison sentences and prohibiting probation for certain sexual offenses, according to Del Norte County Dist. Atty. Dale Trigg. Bruder will serve only half of his sentence because of California’s felony sentencing realignment.
In making his ruling, Follett insisted the “stigma” of the conviction and having to register as a sex offender would deter Bruder and others from committing similar acts, the district attorney said in a statement.
“I could not disagree more,” Trigg said.
The district attorney said he thinks Bruder benefited because his crimes occurred before the passage of the new law, AB 2888, allowing the judge to sentence him to probation.
Last year, lawmakers crafted the legislation after the case of Turner, a former Stanford swimmer who was convicted of sexually assaulting an unconscious woman behind a dumpster on campus after a fraternity party.
In that case, Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Aaron Persky sentenced Turner to six months in jail for the assault because he said a harsher penalty would have a “severe impact” on the former athlete. Turner also only served half of his sentence.
The light sentence sparked outrage nationwide and a campaign to recall Persky.
Although the circumstances were different, Bruder’s case draws many similarities to Turner’s.
‘Eventually it got to the point where I couldn’t say ‘no’ anymore’
The assault occurred July 11 in Crescent City, a coastal community 20 miles from the Oregon border, according to a pre-sentencing report from the Del Norte County Probation Department.
Bruder, who was 19 at the time, offered the victim marijuana and dabs of highly potent hash oil, the report said. As the pair smoked, Bruder asked whether the victim wanted to have sex with him.
The victim said, “No.”
(The Times does not typically identify victims of sexual assault.)
What have I done?
— Nolan Bruder
According to investigators, Bruder continued to ask, as the victim became increasingly impaired and could no longer recognize Bruder.
“Eventually it got to the point where I couldn’t say ‘no’ anymore, like, I didn’t know how to, so I ended up having sex with him,” the victim told investigators.
Bruder told investigators that the victim didn’t clearly say no the second time he asked and acknowledged that the victim “was probably stoned,” according to the report. After asking a third time, Bruder told investigators the victim said yes and they both removed their clothes.
The next morning, according to the report, he woke up and thought “What have I done?” He then left home for three or four days.
Before his sentencing, Bruder penned a one-page letter to Follett. In it, he describes how the victim persistently asked him to use marijuana together. He wrote also that “at no time” did he physically force or manipulate the victim to participate.
“I am still struggling with the everlasting shame of the events of that night; the affect of which have gone beyond myself, spilling over into my family, friends and community,” he wrote.
‘Showed no real remorse’
Bruder pleaded guilty in April to drugging and raping the victim, the report said.
Before Follett handed down his sentence, at least three probation officers reviewed the case and determined that Bruder “showed no real remorse and seemed smug,” they wrote in the pre-sentencing report. Citing the new law, they recommended Bruder be sentenced to six years in prison and denied probation.
In an interview with probation officers, Bruder blamed the legal process for injustices against him and “tried to normalize, minimize and excuse his predatory behavior,” the report said.
What he did was a one-time and one-time only offense that I do not hold against him.
— The victim
In a letter to the judge, Bruder’s parents pleaded for leniency, as did more than a dozen other people who knew the defendant.
The victim also wrote a two-page letter that said, “I understand that what Nolan did to me was wrong … But one man’s wrongdoing does not shape his entire character.”
The victim wrote that speaking with Bruder hasn’t been possible because of the criminal case, but Bruder has taken steps “to rectify this situation.” He’s gone to counseling and rehab to take care of his mental health, the victim wrote.
“I feel Nolan’s actions show that he knows his wrongdoing and understands how his mistake hurt me and the people that love him,” the victim said.
“What he did was a one-time and one-time only offense that I do not hold against him.”
‘A case of the judge exhibiting bias…Women are fed up with this kind of thing’
The law prohibits a judge from ordering probation in certain sex crimes such as rape, sodomy and forced oral copulation. The bill also prevents judges from handing light sentences to offenders convicted of sexually assaulting unconscious or severely intoxicated victims.
Trigg, the district attorney, said Follett, the judge in the Bruder case, noted that the victim was not unconscious. He said Follett also questioned whether there was sufficient evidence for a jury to convict Bruder despite a video confession.
“The legislative changes and the policies behind them, however, apply equally to situations where a victim cannot consent due to intoxication or due to being unconscious,” the district attorney said.
This is a really troubling case and, in some ways, even worse than Brock Turner.
— Laurie Levenson, a Loyola law professor
Loyola law professor Laurie Levenson said she thinks the judge went with the lighter sentence because he gave the defendant a break for pleading guilty and “he was concerned that the victim’s actions called into question whether the prosecutors could have gotten a jury to convict.”
“This is a really troubling case and, in some ways, even worse than Brock Turner,” she said. “I understand why the judge did not apply the new law, because new penalties only apply prospectively, but the judge had the discretion under the old laws to impose a much stiffer sentence.”
Michele Dauber, a Stanford law professor who is a longtime friend of the victim in the Turner case, said the sentence in Bruder’s case shows there is a “failure to hold a young man accountable for a sickening felony sex crime.”
“Indeed the probation department recommended prison, so this is really a case of the judge exhibiting bias, and it is very clear and very obvious,” said Dauber, who is leading a recall effort against Persky, the Santa Clara County judge.
“Until women start using the power we have at the ballot to elect judges who take sex crimes seriously, this will keep happening. That's why the recall of Judge Persky is so important. We are sending a message: Enough is enough. Women are fed up with this kind of thing.”
Already a subscriber? Thank you for your support. If you are not, please consider subscribing today. Get full access to our signature journalism for just 99 cents for the first four weeks.