Shaw: Once again, the punishment does not fit the crime

Jim Shaw
Jim Shaw

I am sorry to have to write for the third time in the past year about an unjust sentence handed down in Cass County Court. A sentence that was much too lenient, and where the punishment didn’t come close to fitting the crime. It was a case of attempted rape.

Karen (not her real name) was the victim. The perpetrator was 33-year-old Justin Zander. During his trial, prosecutors say Zander admitted during his testimony that he pushed her down, pulled her clothes off, tried to have sex with her, acknowledged she said no, and shoved something down her throat. Karen told me she thought she was going to die.

The jury found Zander guilty of attempted gross sexual imposition-sexual act-force. The maximum sentence for such a crime is 20 years in prison. Prosecutors asked for 5 years.

“I thought he earned a 5-year sentence,” said prosecutor Ryan Younggren. “It was because of the level of violence in this case.”

Before the formal sentencing, Karen gave a victim impact statement. She spoke of the physical and emotional pain she has suffered. Then Judge Douglas Herman sentenced Zander to just 86 days in jail, which amounted to time served. Zander’s family applauded. Karen cried. Younggren put his arms around Karen and hugged her.

The sentence was even worse than it sounds. Of the 86 days, Zander spent 71 of them on electronic home monitoring. That meant he could go to work and other appointments. Thus, Zander, facing a possible 20 years in prison for attempted rape, spent only 15 days behind bars. A mere 15 days in jail for a brutal attack that has traumatized an innocent victim. It’s appalling.

“The sentence was devastating,” a tearful Karen said. “I’ve gone through so much. It was unreal. Someone attempts to rape you and you get two weeks. How is that fair?”

Scott Brand, Zander’s attorney, emphasizes that prior to this incident, Zander had no criminal history, and Zander and Karen had a prior consensual sexual relationship.

“He got sentenced too harshly,” Brand said. “That’s because he’s now a lifelong felon, a registered sex offender, and he lost his job. For the rest of his life, he’s going to have an uphill battle.”

Still, attempted rape is a serious crime and a violent act. This case sends a horrible message to victims. They are already thoroughly scrutinized and interrogated. It can be scary, humiliating and painful. Why would victims come forward and go through all that if the perpetrators only receive two weeks in jail? Karen says she always feels vulnerable and nervous, while the sentence was insulting.

“I felt not respected,” she said. “I felt so miniscule. It’s like I didn’t matter.”

“It (the sentencing) was a tragedy,” Younggren said. “It was a low moment in my career. I feel the pain of victims in my cases.”