A South Carolina teenager who was charged with two counts of first-degree criminal sexual misconduct for separate assaults in recent years was sentenced to just five years of probation and will not have to register as a sex offender once that time period is up, Circuit Judge Markley Dennis ruled Friday.
Bowen Turner, 19, was facing the charges for two separate incidents that occurred in October 2018 and June 2019.
On Friday, he struck a plea deal to plead guilty to first-degree assault and battery for the latter incident and was sentenced under the Youthful Offender Act.
"If he has completed five years without any violations and has done all the counseling necessary, then he will not have to register as a sex offender," Dennis said Friday to audible groans from those attending the hearing.
The victim in the June 2019 assault, Chloe Bess, said she was at a party with Turner and others when Turner pulled her behind a truck around 3 a.m. and sexually assaulted her.
"Turner then pulled her pants and underwear off and forced himself sexually on the victim," Second Circuit Deputy Solicitor David Miller said in court.
Outside the courthouse on Friday, Bess said she was "extremely disappointed" by the sentence.
"I just feel like no matter what we say it falls on deaf ears," Bess said at a news conference alongside her family. "It’s a very defeating feeling, but I refuse to be defeated."
Sarah Ford, who represents Bess and the other victim in the first assault, Dallas Stoller, said the plea deal was in "direct contrast" to what the victims wanted.
"What he pled to and what happened to her, it was not the same," Ford told Fox News Digital. "And unfortunately, we were not able to argue that it should be rejected, which is really a travesty for crime victims."
Stoller died in November and the first-degree criminal sexual misconduct charge that Turner was facing for allegedly assaulting her was dropped last week, Ford said.
"The fact that the defendant is going to walk free today and our sister is never going to walk the earth again, and we feel like not only her voice was stolen but ours was too," Brette Tabatabai, Dallas's sister, said outside the courthouse.
Turner also allegedly sexually assaulted a third victim in April 2018 in Calhoun County, but no charges were ultimately filed, Ford said.
Turner was originally arrested in January 2019 and released on bond on the condition of GPS monitoring. The electronic monitoring was removed in April 2019 until he was arrested again for a separate assault in June 2019.
He was denied bond for two months until August 2019, when a judge ruled that he could be released on a $100,000 bond and stay under house arrest at his grandmother’s residence, only able to leave during the day to see his attorney, go to court, or seek mental health counseling.
Despite the strict conditions, Turner went golfing 19 times, went to an apartment complex in Columbia three times, ate out at a Brazilian steakhouse, and shopped at multiple outdoor sports stores, according to a motion to revoke bond that was filed last week but never heard in court.
Ford said they are filing a motion to hold the bonding company in contempt.
"It was our contention that in the bond order that the state and law enforcement had a responsibility to pick Bowen Turner up if and when he violated his bond," Ford said. "They were notified as far back as March 2 that he was not complying with his house arrest, he was violating his GPS conditions, and he walked into the courtroom on Friday."
Turner's father, Walt Turner, was an investigator for South Carolina first circuit solicitor David Pascoe, so second circuit solicitor Bill Weeks’ office handled the case, FITSNews reported.
The 19-year-old was defended in court by South Carolina state Sen. Brad Hutto, who represents Orangeburg and the surrounding area.
"[The victims] have hit roadblock after roadblock, really just failure after failure," Ford said. "We've just seen that, folks with power and privilege are getting to really determine what justice looks like for them, and justice, our justice system should determine that for everyone equally."
Hutto did not respond to a request for comment on Wednesday.