Scott Vaughan knew that Monday, January 3, would be a difficult day. He had gathered his family in court for the sentencing hearing of the 18-year-old man found guilty in October of raping his 16-year-old daughter, Cameron. After passing out from drinking at a party over Memorial Day weekend, Cameron says she woke up to a pillow being pushed into her face and Drew Clinton inside her. She struggled so much after the assault that she attempted suicide in July. Her mom and older brother drove six hours to be there alongside her and her two other siblings in the Quincy, Illinois, courtroom, on the border of Missouri.
Cameron, her stepmom, and Scott spent several evenings writing and reviewing victim impact statements to be read at sentencing and decided they’d read them from the witness stand. Vaughan told Jezebel that process was “quite frankly…the toughest thing I’ve ever had to do.”
The family never got the chance to read those words in court. Adams County Judge Robert Adrian heard statements from both lawyers and then said that he refused to impose the state’s mandatory minimum sentence of four years in prison on Clinton, because the 18-year-old had had no prior record and had already served almost five months in county jail. “For what happened in this case,” the judge said, “that is plenty of punishment.”
The only way for Judge Adrian to avoid doling out the mandatory sentence was to overturn his own conviction, which he could only do because it had been a bench trial, not a jury trial. Judge Adrian released Clinton from custody that day.
“What this judge basically said is, as long as you’re 18 and you have no priors, it’s okay to sexually violate someone,” Vaughan told Jezebel. And that is not a message he wanted any of his four kids to hear—especially his daughter.
“She was starting to kind of heal and put it behind her and, and then when the not guilty [ruling] came out, it was literally like somebody just opened the wound again,” Vaughan said in a phone interview.
In the first few days after the judge reversed the conviction, the family was sitting stunned at home. Then retired lawyers and detectives began reaching out to offer support and encourage them to talk about what happened, because it’s virtually unheard of in the criminal justice system. Vaughan said he discussed it with Cameron, who was unsure at first about speaking out. “She’s like, ‘I want my story heard because, at the end of the day, I may help somebody else get their story heard,’” he said. “As a parent, I couldn’t have been prouder. For her only being 16, and how this has devastated her life, for her to step up and want to help other girls get their story out just floored me.”
Cameron spoke on camera with WGEM for a segment that went live on January 11. Jezebel covered the story yesterday, and it has since been picked up by the Associated Press, NBC News, The Guardian, and various tabloids. A Change.org petition created Wednesday calling on the Illinois Courts Commission to censure, suspend, or remove Judge Adrian has more than 11,000 signatures as of publication time.
Cameron is seeing therapists now, Vaughan said. But when school resumed in September, she came home “pretty destroyed” by the snickering and naysaying and told her parents she didn’t know if she could do it. Because of covid-19, remote learning was an option, so that’s what the family chose. Vaughan said he knows it’s what his daughter needs, but she’s a junior set to graduate a year early, and he’s sad she won’t experience her final year of high school in person.
And as if Judge Adrian overturning the guilty verdict wasn’t hard enough, Clinton’s lawyer, Drew Schnack, blamed Cameron for drinking alcohol and going swimming in her underwear. And Judge Adrian seemed to agree with those statements, saying: “Underwear is not the same as swimming suits. It’s just—they allow 16-year-olds to bring liquor to a party. They provide liquor to underage people, and you wonder how these things happen.”
These comments disgust Vaughan. “Yes, my daughter made a lot of bad decisions that night—a lot. But regardless of the situation, at the end of the day, whatever decisions that were made, she still did not make the decision to get sexually violated,” he said. Even if all the girls at the party “jumped in [the pool] naked—it still doesn’t give that guy the right to put a pillow over her face and sexually assault her like that.”
As for Judge Adrian, Vaughan hopes something is done. “Judges need to be held accountable for their decisions,” he said. “They’re voted in to uphold the law, not take the law into their own hands and decide what’s best.”