A judge is facing criticism for giving what some say was a too-lenient sentence to Nolan Bruder, a California man who was convicted of drugging and then raping his teenage sister after she was so impaired she no longer realized he was her brother.
When sentencing Bruder, 20, of Crescent City, California, Judge William H. Follett noted “that the victim in this case took her own clothes off and was not unconscious,” reported the Crescent City Times.
The crime led a prosecutor to draw comparisons between the Bruder rape case and the infamous Brock Turner case. Turner was the Stanford University swimmer who served only three months in jail for sexually assaulting a woman who was unconscious.
You can read the court documents in the case here (the victim’s name has been redacted):
In both cases, the judges gave the defendants less time than the prosecutors wanted; and, in both cases, some are arguing that the men received the advantage of “white privilege.”
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Bruder Is Accused of Giving His Own Sister ‘Dabs’ of Marijuana & Then Raping Her
When Bruder’s sister wouldn’t have sex with him, he gave her potent drugs in order to take advantage of her, prosecutors argued.
Bruder pleaded guilty to the accusations. The District Attorney, Dale Trigg, told Heavy in an interview, “Child protective services got a call from a counselor in another state where the victim was a student at a boarding school and disclosed to the teacher counselor that when she was home last summer her older brother had given her marijuana to smoke and propositioned her for sex. She declined several times. He kept giving her dabs of high potency marijuana until she got to the point where in her words she didn’t recognize him as her brother any longer, and they ended up having sex.”
Bruder was convicted of rape of an intoxicated person, The Crescent City Times reports. According to the pre-sentence investigation, the victim reported to her teacher that her then 19-year-old brother had “forced her to have sexual intercourse with him.”
She called her parents, who told police that the teen was in a boarding school. She was then interviewed by police and said that “while home for the summer, her brother, Bruder, offered to smoke marijuana and dabs of hash oil to get her ‘really high,’” the pre-sentence documents allege.
Asked to rank how “out of it” she was due to the use of marijuana and dabs, the victim said she was “at least a 9 and that she no longer recognized him as her brother. She stated that she did not really know how to continue saying no.” She said that she denied Bruder’s request until “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,” according to the pre-sentence report.
When interviewed by police, Bruder said that “at first when he asked if (the victim) wanted to have sex, she did not give a direct no or not really. The second time he asked, ‘Are you sure’? The third time, he wasn’t sure if he asked or if the two came to the decision together.” He acknowledged “she was probably stoned,” the report contends.
2. The Judge Gave Bruder Far Less Time Than the Prosecutor Wanted, Saying Bruder Was Already Stigmatized
According to The Crescent City Times, Bruder was sentenced May 17 by Judge Follett to serve “three years, with all but 240 days (at half time in county jail) suspended in favor of a grant of probation for Rape of an Intoxicated Person.”
The newspaper added that, the prosecutor, the Deputy DA, Annamarie Padilla, had asked the judge to “follow the Probation Department’s recommendation to send Bruder to state prison for six years.” Trigg confirmed all of this in the interview with Heavy.
“In this case, the probation department worked it up and determined that this was a case where, although eligible for probation, this defendant was not suitable for probation and this court should deny probation,” Trigg said. “They recommended a middle term of six years. I reviewed that and thought that was appropriate.”
There were some mitigating factors in the case, Trigg said, namely the defendant’s younger age and lack of criminal history. However, he said there were also aggravating factors in it. “He used a position of trust and influence to commit the crime,” said Trigg.
The judge “believed that the ‘stigma’ of this conviction along with mandatory sex offender registration requirements would sufficiently deter this Defendant and others in the community,” reported the newspaper.
Judge Follett is the presiding judge in Del Norte County, California.
In a previous statement of candidacy, the judge said that he strived “to ensure that people appearing in court are treated fairly and with dignity. Although we have only two judges, our heavy caseload justifies more than three judges under state standards. I’ve tried to balance the need to process hundreds of cases weekly with the patience needed to listen and be fair.”
The judge stressed that the courthouse had helped “families in crisis” by establishing drug courts and hiring a full-time mediator. The judge added that he had “implemented strict drug testing to force abstinence as a condition to continuing treatment and avoiding jail.”
During his last court appearance, for his part, Bruder had said he was “very disappointed with how the D.A.’s Office stated the facts and chose the most condescending way to state those facts and it misconstrued what happened and that seems like an obstruction of justice,” the pre-sentence report says.
According to the Del Monte Triplicate, Defense Attorney Karen Olsen “argued the incident stemmed from bad decisions after the two did dabs together” and the judge said that “based on his observations, he believed Bruder was deeply remorseful for his actions and he posed a low risk for recurrence.” Eighteen people wrote letters on behalf of Bruder, the newspaper reported.
Heavy has left messages for Olsen and the judge. The judge’s clerk said he can’t comment on cases because of ethical rules.
3. The District Attorney Vehemently Disagreed With the Sentence but Bruder Said He Felt Mistreated
The lead prosecutor in the case was upset with the sentence.
The Del Norte District Attorney, Trigg, told KRC-TV that he “could not disagree more with” it. He reiterated that sentiment to Heavy.
The prosecutor added to Heavy of the sentence, “I think the message that it sends is if people are going to commit a crime like this that there’s not going to be any meaningful sanction.”
He disputed the judge’s rationale in the case, saying, “He said she took her own pants off and that’s something he considered, which is ridiculous. It had nothing to do with whether she had the capacity to consent or not. He talked about how there’s no evidence he had forced himself on her.”
Trigg noted, “I’m my 18th year as a lawyer, and at no point in my career have I ever called out a judge as I did here.”
He noted that the victim in the case had written a letter telling the judge she did not want Bruder to go to prison.
Bruder’s side is that his sister had allegedly “continued to ask him to smoke marijuana with her,” and that at first he said no but later agreed, according to the pre-sentence report, which recounts an interview he gave with probation officials.
He said he didn’t know why he asked the sister to have sex, but the first time she said no and the second time she said she was unsure. The third time, he says he asked, “Are you sure?” and she said yes, he alleged in the report.
Bruder said he had consumed more dabs than she had. When he woke up he said, “What have I done?” He said that “all of the people around him, including the treatment professionals he has been seeing, do not agree with how this case has been handled and do not think this is that big of a deal. He continually stated that his counselors that he has been seeing about this incident and people around him have said this type of behavior between siblings is very common,” the pre-sentence report alleges Bruder said.
It’s not the first time that Judge Follett has gone lighter than the prosecution in a sex-related case. In a prior case, according to KIEM-TV, a former Del Norte High School coach was “found guilty on multiple counts of an inappropriate relationship with a minor” but received “a lighter than recommended sentence” from the judge.
The DA and probation department wanted five years but the judge gave the defendant, Joseph Young, “3-years of probation with only 1-year in jail. Young will be eligible for release in less than 6-months,” the television station reported. In that case, said KIEM-TV, the judge cited the “willingness of the victim in the relationship,” even though the prosecutor pointed out that juveniles can’t legally consent.
In that case, according to a press release from the DA’s office, “The jury heard evidence over the course of three days that included 100’s of electronic messages exchanged between Young and the juvenile, many of which were highly sexual in content and showed the depth of the intimate relationship that had developed between the two. The juvenile and Young both testified that they had no inappropriate physical contact before the juvenile turned 18 but both admitted to doing so shortly afterward.”
In the press release, Trigg’s office said he “argued that the position of trust that the defendant violated and the 23 year age difference between the defendant and the juvenile were the two factors that drove the investigation and prosecution of this case from the very beginning and should result in a five year state prison sentence in the end.”
4. The Bruder Case Has Draw Comparisons to the Brock Turner Rape Case
The D.A. himself raised a direct comparison to the Turner case. Turner’s case drew national outrage when the Stanford swimmer received far less than the six years in prison a prosecutor had asked for; the victim, in an emotional letter, had described blacking out at a party and “waking up in a hospital with pine needles in her hair, dried blood and bandages on the backs of her hands and elbows, her underwear missing,” according to CNN.
“In a lot of ways, this case is more egregious than Brock Turner,” Trigg told KRC-TV of the Bruder case. “This defendant took advantage of a position of trust as this victim’s big brother. He knew she didn’t want to have sex with him. She told him that repeatedly. So he got her stoned on dabs he gave her until she didn’t even recognize him in order get what he wanted.”
After the Turner controversy, the law was changed to deny probation in such cases, but Bruder’s case predated the law change, so he was not affected by it legally, Trigg said.
In the interview with Heavy, Trigg reiterated that he saw similarities, especially because of the legislative change.
Bruder’s father disagrees with the seriousness of the prosecution in his son’s case, according to the pre-sentence report. (The father is a nurse and the mother a massage therapist, according to the report, which adds that Bruder was living with his parents.)
According to the pre-sentence report, the victim’s father “expressed great disdain for the legal process and how this case was handled. He stated that he has no faith in the system and that his daughter’s statement was obtained under false pretenses.”
The dad allegedly said “that both his son and daughter were culpable and both chose to make a terrible decision that day,” the report alleges.
The girl said that she doesn’t think Nolan deserved any jail time “because this was a onetime thing and he would never do this to anyone else,” the report says.
A test conducted on Bruder put him in low-moderate risk category for reoffense, the probation report says. However, the probation office wrote in the report that it didn’t think he was a candidate for probation in part because he allegedly had not taken accountability and appeared “smug.”
5. Bruder Filled His Facebook Page With Eerie Poems About the Devil
“I see demon in those eyes,” one friend wrote under a Facebook picture of Bruder, to which he replied, “Perhaps.”
He filled his page with poems. In October, he wrote, “We are all creatures inside, humanity meant nothing at all until it was spoken, there for by their written rules we must abide, we do not live in a world un-broken, and if our own perception of this life means nothing, is there any traces of the animals we are, left inside us? Or are we all just after the same something, so let not the world tell you who you are, And maybe you too can reach your star.”
He started another poem, “Cut my throat and leave me for dead, the ghosts inside me are what all dread.” He posted pictures of skulls and people’s heads blowing up. Another poem began, “Hehe the devil whispers his words onto my lips. And I curse the people who talk sh*t from the safety of their home ship.”
The devil is a recurring theme in his posts. Others said, “Devils behind my eyes. Feeling my thoughts sorting my lies” and “Satan come and spin with me, Devils teach me how to sin with thee.”
His Facebook page says he worked at a Christian boarding high school, and lived and was from Crescent City, California. People have now filled the Facebook page with angry comments because of the case. In the pre-sentence report, Bruder said that he was unemployed and had done yard work and worked at his high school building concrete humidity censors. He said he has skills packaging boxes and in food preparation but has never had a legitimate job.
Bruder said he had attended a religious boarding school, and it caused him problems because of a “lack of religious freedom and ability to be one’s true self,” the report alleges.