The cook at a Christian church camp in Oklahoma admitted to brutally raping and sodomizing a 13-year-old girl, but he’s getting a slap on the wrist because he’s “legally blind.”
Benjamin Lawrence Petty was sentenced to 15 years of probation, without any jail time, for his violent sexual assault of a camper at Falls Creek church camp. He tied a rope around the victim’s wrists, raped her, and threatened her.
The camp’s employment site makes it clear that they only hire those who want to “serve Christ,” specifically stating that those who apply must be “an active member of a local church.” Applicants must also “live a life of moral integrity.” Petty? Not so much.
We don’t know if Petty’s religion had anything to do with his crime, but we know his claim of divine ethics didn’t prevent him from committing one of the most heinous crimes possible. We also don’t know if his church has anything to do with the weak sentence, which prosecutors blamed on the fact that the defendant is “legally blind.”
Murray County Assistant District Attorney David Pyle, who negotiated the guilty plea, said Petty is “legally blind” and that was a major factor in his decision not to insist on prison time.
Petty was given the suspended sentence by District Judge Wallace Coppedge on Jan. 19 after entering a negotiated guilty plea to first-degree rape, forcible sodomy and rape by instrumentation. All three are felonies.
A woman in Judge Coppedge’s office said he would not be making any statement.
It wouldn’t be unheard of for churches to exert their influence over faithful members of the law enforcement community, but there’s no evidence of that here yet.
“The big thing is Mr. Petty is legally blind and the parents (of the victim) live out of state and this little girl lives out of state and didn’t want to make all the travels back and forth,” Pyle said. “The plea was negotiated with their permission.”
Petty was already legally blind at the time of the rape, Pyle said. Under terms of the probation, Petty will be required to wear an ankle monitor for 24 months, register as a sex offender and obtain treatment. He had no prior felony convictions, according to plea agreement documents.
First of all, “legally blind” is a term generally used for individuals with 20/200 vision or worse, and is often used for people who can still function in normal society despite having sight issues. Secondly, and most importantly, I have no idea why blindness would be a factor in sentencing an admitted rapist.
Pyle insists the plea deal was negotiated with the “permission” of the victim’s parents, but he says nothing about what the girl herself wanted. He also conveniently left out that the parents felt pressured because they were told that Petty wouldn’t serve serious time because of his disability, creating a vicious circle.
Bruce Robertson, an attorney who is helping represent the victim’s interests in a civil case, said the family’s consent to the plea agreement came after “the family was told by the district attorney’s office that the rapist would not serve any meaningful prison time due to his medical conditions.”
So, the parents were told he wouldn’t serve much time, so they agreed to a deal that didn’t include any time. If the prosecutors hadn’t pressured them in that way, would he have been sentenced to actual prison time for his violent rape? We don’t know if there’s more to this story, but I certainly wouldn’t be surprised to hear there were some other considerations here.
Representatives for the church camp didn’t return requests for comment.