Benjamin Lawrence Petty was convicted of raping a 13-year-old girl at the church camp where he worked as a cook and was only given 15 years probation, no prison time. Now, people are calling for the resignation of the judge who imposed such a light sentence.
The Washington Post reports that an online petition to remove Marshall County District Judge Wallace Coppedge is circulating, and has over 100,000 signatures. The petition suggests that though the victim’s parents agreed to the terms of Petty’s sentence (he avoided harsher sentencing in part because he is legally blind), Coppedge should have refused it, saying, “The fact that Petty was legally blind does not bar him from being able to serve prison time for his heinous crimes.”
According to News 12, prosecutor David Pyle resigned on January 30, following backlash against him and the Murray County’s District Attorney’s office. Pyle had suggested the plea deal would spare the victim from having to travel to testify as she lives out of state. In a statement from the family’s lawyer in their civil lawsuit, Bruce Robertson, they clarified that they did accept the terms of the plea deal, but only because they were informed that was the only option:
“Contrary to statements made by the Murray County Assistant District Attorney, David Pyle, our client and her family never expressed reservations about traveling to Oklahoma for the criminal case against Benjamin Petty,” Robertson said in a statement to News 12.
“In fact, our client traveled to Oklahoma and was present in the courthouse on April 10, 2017, for the preliminary hearing and anticipated testifying at trial. Further, the family consented to the plea agreement based on the representation by Mr. Pyle that Petty would not serve meaningful time in prison due to his medical conditions. The family was not provided any other alternative.”
The petition will be sent to the Oklahoma Council on Judicial Complaints, which can recommend a judge be removed to the Court on the Judiciary. Coppedge is up for reelection in 2019. He was first appointed in 2010, and won again in 2014; however, judges are automatically reelected if no one runs against them in the state of Oklahoma.