Texas judge Jeanine Howard recuses herself from rape case after criticism over sentencing

By Lisa Maria Garza

DALLAS (Reuters) - Dallas prosecutors have called for a harsher penalty for a young Texas man who admitted to raping a 14-year-old girl and was sentenced last week by a judge to 45 days in jail and five years of probation.

State District Judge Jeanine Howard has come under criticism for the sentence and for telling the Dallas Morning News last week the girl "wasn't the victim she claimed to be."

Dallas District Attorney Craig Watkins said on Monday the light sentence sends "a very bad message" to rape victims, many of whom are reluctant to report the crimes.

"This judge called into question whether this victim was really a victim and it does a disservice to law enforcement and our ability to protect those that are sexually assaulted," Watkins said.

Howard has recused herself from the case and, after speaking to the newspaper, has not been available for comment.

The judge also told the paper last week the sentence was based on a review of the victim's medical records, which stated she was not a virgin and had previously given birth to a baby.

The girl, now 17 years old, denied the judge's claims about her sexual past to WFAA-TV, saying she has never been pregnant.

"I was shocked that a judge, someone that I trusted with this case, would go behind my back, would go and find records and make these allegations that she knows nothing about," the teen said.

Howard also sentenced Sir Young, who was 18 at the time of the crime, to 250 hours of community service at a rape prevention center, which refused to allow him onto its premises, saying it would be a slap in the face to the rape victims it counsels.

Young, now 20, faced up to 20 years in prison for raping the girl, a classmate at a Dallas performing arts school in 2011.

Howard told the Dallas Morning News: "There are rape cases that deserve life. There are rape cases that deserve 20 years. Every now and then you have one of those that deserve probation. This is one of those and I stand by it."

Dallas prosecutors will appeal the terms of Young's probation at a hearing next week. A lawyer for Young could not be reached for comment.

Young is currently serving his 45-day sentence. The conviction will be removed from his record if he completes the terms of his probation.

(Editing by Jon Herskovitz and Steve Orlofsky)

[Image via WFAA-TV]