An Alabama man convicted of raping a teenage girl will avoid prison after a judge sentenced him to a rehabilitation program for nonviolent offenders and probation.
Austin Smith Clem, 25, was found guilty in September of raping a teenage neighbor three times over a four-year period starting when the victim was 13 years old.
The victim, Courtney Andrews, said Clem threatened to kill her parents if she told anyone about the abuse, and she said she called on a family friend when she told her parents in 2011 because she “knew it would break their hearts.”
Her parents reported Clem to the police.
Clem was convicted on one count of first-degree rape and two counts of second-degree rape following a trial that included no defense witnesses and less than two hours of jury deliberations.
Limestone County Circuit Judge Jimmy Woodroof Jr. sentenced Clem to 30 years in prison but suspended that term by giving him four years in a community corrections program and six years of supervised probation.
He must also register as a sex offender and pay $2,381 in restitution.
Andrews said she was astonished when the judge read the sentence.
“How do you react to that? To know that he gets to go home to his three little girls, and live there with them, watch them grow,” she said. “He’s still not paying for any of it. When does he have to pay? Because he still hasn’t had to. That’s the thing. I have to pay for the rest of my life. I’ve been paying since I was 13 years old.”
Although Clem will be permitted to live at home while he completes the corrections program and probation, his attorney said he’s already getting off easy.
“It would seem to be relatively mild,” said attorney Dan Totten. “But [Clem's] lifestyle for the next six years is going to be very controlled … If he goes to a party and they’re serving beer, he can’t say, ‘Can I have one?’ If he wanted to go across the Tennessee line, which as the crow flies is eight or nine miles from his house, and buy a lottery ticket, he can’t do that … It’s not a slap on the wrist.”
Andrews, who’s now a 20-year-old college student in Mobile, said she feared for her family’s safety.
“I was thinking finally I stood up and I’m not afraid anymore,” Andrews said.
“Finally happy for the first time, I can say, in my entire life, and now’s the day I’m not going to walk around scared anymore, because I’m going to know he’s behind bars.”
Attorneys for the state questioned whether the sentence was legal and said they’re working to get it set aside and have a stiffer penalty imposed.
Clem’s attorney admitted he and the judge had been friends since childhood, when they were neighbors, but he said he didn’t think their relationship influenced the judge’s decision.
Totten said evidence in the case made community corrections seem like a more appropriate penalty, adding that Alabama law would have required Clem to serve more than 20 years in prison if the judge hadn’t suspended the original sentence.
“You didn’t hear the evidence,” Totten said. “The original allegation was that both of these crimes were forcible. But then you have to believe that although she was forcibly raped twice, she continued to come back and have a social relationship with Austin Clem and his family — until he told her that he was going back to his wife and child and would not have a relationship with her, and a week later he was charged. There’s always two sides to the story.”
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