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Brock Turner's appellate attorney said the former Oakwood High School student never intended to sexually assault a woman at Stanford University in 2015, arguing he was instead engaged in "sexual outercourse" as a version of "safe sex."
A three-justice panel heard Turner's appeal Tuesday in a California appeals court, during which his attorney argued the jury made "unreasonable inferences" leading to his convictions. The panel has 90 days to rule on the appeal.
"I absolutely don't understand what you are talking about," Justice Franklin D. Elia told Turner's attorney, adding that the law "requires the jury verdict to be honored."
IN-DEPTH: What led to Brock Turner's assault case?
A jury found Turner, once a swimmer at Stanford University and Oakwood High School, guilty of assault with intent to commit rape of an intoxicated or unconscious person, penetration of an intoxicated person and penetration of an unconscious person. He was sentenced to six months in jail, but served three months of the sentence.
The appeal gives the 22-year-old an attempt to shed his lifetime status as a Tier III sex offender — Ohio's highest classification — while avoiding a potential heftier sentence under a new trial.
His attorney, Erick Multhaup, said, "The record lacks sufficient evidence to support the three convictions in this case."
Multhaup said Turner had no intent to rape the woman the court calls "Emily Doe," citing witness accounts that he was found to be "violently thrusting but fully clothed" when two exchange students broke up the encounter.
Multhaup also said Doe was "ambulatory" when she and Turner left the party together and that "the jury had to speculate that she was incapacitated."
Deputy Attorney General Alisha Carlile argued to uphold the conviction, saying "the circumstances made it abundantly clear" what Turner intended. She argued that Multhaup had presented a "far-fetched version of events" that didn't support the facts of the case.
"There was ample evidence that she [Emily Doe] was intoxicated to the point of being unconscious," she said.
Hadar Aviram, a University of California Hasting law professor, said questioning the jury's actions is a risky tactic.
"We have a jury system and the jury will seldom give reasons why they decide to convict or acquit," Aviram said. "Because of the very high burden of proof on appeal — because the person is no longer presumed innocent, they've already been found guilty — it's very, very difficult to convince a court of appeal that a jury decision has been unreasonable."
Turner now lives in Sugarcreek Twp. and did not appear in person at the hearing in San Jose, California. His Tier III designation means he is required to register with Greene County every 90 days. In separate letters to the sentencing judge, Turner's parents expressed frustration with this designation.
"Brock will have to register at the highest tier, which means he is on the same level as a pedophile/child molester," Carleen Turner wrote. Added Dan Turner, "The fact that he now has to register as a sexual offender for the rest of his life forever alters where he can live, visit, work, and how he will be able to interact with people and organizations."
The impact of the 2016 case continues to be felt in California, where Santa Clara County voters in June recalled Judge Aaron Persky, who sentenced Turner. A campaign to unseat him raised more than $2 million in nationwide contributions.
Turner's conviction and sentencing sparked a nationwide controversy and wide-ranging discussions about sexual assaults on college campuses. Doe's description of what happened to her, now widely published on the Internet, was so forcefully written that then-Vice President Joe Biden penned an open letter to her that said, "I do not know your name — but your words are forever seared on my soul."
Doe, in her letter, said she never believed the case would go to trial.
"Instead, I was told he hired a powerful attorney, expert witnesses, private investigators who were going to try to find details about my personal life and use it against me, find loopholes in my story to invalidate me and my sister, in order to show that this sexual assault was in fact a misunderstanding," she wrote.
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