DENVER - A former college student convicted carrying a passed out woman to his room “like a ragdoll” and sexually assaulting her was sentenced to 9 years in prison on Wednesday.
The incident occurred nearly two years ago at the Auraria Student Lofts, 1051 14th St.
According to court documents obtained by 9Wants to Know, a surveillance camera captured John D. Kennedy carrying the woman out of a unit where a friend had left her to sleep after she’d become intoxicated. The documents describe video footage showing Kennedy carrying the woman to his own room as if he were “cradling a baby while the victim appeared to be unresponsive and passed out.”
"He destroyed her capacity to trust," the victim's mother said during the sentencing hearing. "She thought she was a good judge of character."
"He took what was never his -- her soul," the victim's father said. "We miss her very much."
In a 10-page sentencing memorandum filed in the face of calls for Kennedy, 23, to receive leniency, Danielle Sexton, a deputy district attorney in Denver, raised the specter of two notorious sexual assault cases that sparked public outrage – in each, a young man convicted of sexually assaulting an incapacitated women got a light sentence.
“Murderers go to prison,” Sexton wrote in the memorandum. “Armed robbers go to prison. Rapists go to prison. Justice requires no less.”
"We're shocked at the verdict," Kennedy's stepfather Wade Oshio said. "Prosecution fell way short of proving beyond a reasonable doubt."
Kennedy appeared Wednesday morning before Denver District Judge Sheila Rappaport for sentencing after being convicted earlier of second-degree kidnapping, two counts of sexual assault and unlawful sexual contact.
And prosecutors want to make sure he isn’t afforded the leniency seen in two other notorious sexual assault cases involving unconscious victims: Stanford swimmer Brock Turner, handed six months in jail and three years on probation for an assault that was interrupted by other students; and now-former University of Colorado student Austin Wilkerson, who was sentenced to two years in a work-release program and two years to life on probation for an assault on a woman he claimed he would care for after she had too much to drink.
“The public outcry surrounding the outrageously light sentences given to rapists on college campuses across the country must be acknowledged,” Sexton wrote.
She called for Rappaport to sentence Kennedy to prison – either a “determinate” sentence of 20 years or an “indeterminate” sentence of at least 10 years. If Rappaport were to sentence Kennedy to the indeterminate sentence, he could spend the rest of his life behind bars.
A message left Tuesday morning with Kennedy’s attorneys was not immediately returned.
A jury convicted Kennedy of four counts:
n Second-degree kidnapping, a felony with a possible prison sentence of eight to 24 years in prison.
n Sexual assault – victim helpless, a felony with a possible sentence of four to 12 years to life in prison.
n Sexual assault – victim incapable, a felony with a possible sentence of two to six years in prison.
n Unlawful sexual contact, a misdemeanor with a possible sentence of six months to two years in prison.
"He's far from the vicious predator he's portrayed in the courtroom," Sam Kinney, a friend of Kennedy, testified Wednesday. He was one of multiple people who asked for leniency. "The decision is going to affect a life of a great kid."
According to court documents, the incident unfolded after what had been a night out for friends celebrating Halloween in 2015.
The woman told police she drank a couple beers before heading out with a friend. At a bar, she bumped into Kennedy, whom she had dated briefly and remained friendly with. According to court documents, both she and Kennedy told police they had consensual sex three times while they were dating, but that had been more than a year before.
The woman and Kennedy talked at the bar, and he bought her a drink. She told police that after consuming it she became severely intoxicated and blacked out. Her friends and Kennedy helped her back to the Auraria Student Lofts, a high-rise that caters to students on the nearby campus that houses CU Denver, Metropolitan State University of Denver and Community College of Denver. At some point her friend put her in bed to sleep and planned to check on her every 20 minutes.
Early on the morning of Nov. 1, 2015, the friend discovered the woman was gone and began knocking on the doors of nearby units.
She and another friend eventually went to Kennedy’s unit, pounding on the door for 10 minutes before kicking it in. They found the woman inside, in Kennedy’s bed, according to court documents, and a physical altercation ensued as the woman’s friend demanded answers.
The victim reported the incident to police the next day, telling a police officer that she had no memory of what happened, but that she awoke in Kennedy’s bed, unaware how she got there. She was still wearing her dress, but it had a hole in it and she discovered that her panties were on inside out, according to court documents.
Denver police officers then located surveillance footage. According to court documents, it showed Kennedy entering the room where the woman was sleeping and then carrying her to his unit.
Kennedy told a different story when he was questioned by police, saying he went to check on the woman and that she asked to go to his room, according to court documents. He also denied that the woman was unconscious, saying that she seemed fine.
He initially denied they had any sexual contact. He later admitted touching her breasts but denied he had any other sexual contact with her, although he told a detective he blacked out for five minutes.
A DNA test, however, contradicted his assertions.
At the time of the incident, Kennedy was a student at the University of Colorado Denver.
According to CU spokeswoman Emily Williams, Kennedy was suspended once administrators learned of the allegations against him and ultimately was expelled from the school.
The sentencing memorandum took aim at calls for a judge to go easy on Kennedy, and it cites letters written to the judge by his supporters, several of which suggest he was “wrongly accused” and others which suggest that he “shouldn’t go to prison.”
“It would be a loss for the community and a waste of a future if he were to be incarcerated,” one of his supporters wrote, according to the memorandum. “I do not believe he is in need of rehabilitation nor would prison time result in that end.”
“I think it’s safe to say most people go through the ‘college phase’ in their life,” another wrote. “Maybe Jake was caught up in the wrong crowd.”
Sexton rejected all of those arguments.
“To impose probation and no meaningful punishment for an offense of this gravity – even for a first-time offender – would be patently unjust,” she wrote in the sentencing memorandum.
The victim wrote the following letter to the judge that prosecutors read at the sentencing hearing:
If you’re having a hard time reading this story, you can contact the Blue Bench 24-hour Sexual Assault Hotline for Women & Men 303-322-7273, Toll Free 1-888-394-8044
Contact 9NEWS reporter Kevin Vaughan with tips about this or any story: firstname.lastname@example.org or 303-871-1862.
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