This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2017, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Moments after a jury found him guilty of nearly a dozen sex abuse-related crimes, Keith Robert Vallejo walked out of the Provo courthouse last month a free man.
Despite requests from a prosecutor to have him jailed until his April sentencing date, a Utah County judge instead allowed the former Mormon bishop to remain free on bail, and to go home to his wife and eight children.
After three days of testimony, a 4th District Court jury found Vallejo guilty of ten counts of second-degree felony forcible sexual abuse and one count of object rape, a first-degree felony. Two women testified at the trial that he had inappropriately touched them during separate stays at his Provo home in 2013 and 2014.
"I still feel like, even after he's convicted, no one is really saying he's guilty," said Julia Kirby, who was 19 when Vallejo abused her. "Because if they were, why would the judge let him go home to a house full of young girls? I don't understand why that's a privilege he's given, when he's been convicted. He's been found guilty. It just, to me, says, 'Yeah, here a jury of his peers believed you, but this judge doesn't.' "
The now-23-year-old woman, who lives in West Virginia, said this week that when the jury returned their guilty verdict late in the evening on Feb. 17, she feared Vallejo, who is her brother-in-law, being free because she had to stay in Provo that night.
"We didn't know what he's capable of doing," she told The Tribune. "He's still going to be living at home with his eight kids. ... He could still be out walking around with no consequences."
After the verdicts were read, Deputy Utah County Attorney Ryan McBride cited state statute, which reads that, upon conviction, "the court shall order that the convicted defendant who is waiting imposition or execution of sentence be detained." The law, however, allows for a defendant to remain free if a judge finds "clear and convincing evidence" that the defendant will not flee and is not a danger to anyone in the community.
Fourth District Judge Thomas Low found that because Vallejo had posted a cash bail, has a large family and works in the community, he would not be a risk. The judge also ruled there would be "minimal damage" to the victims because they live out of state.
"It is clear that [the victims] have been heard and have been believed," the judge said, according to a recording of the hearing. "And if that's the closure they're seeking, that's closure. Watching a man being taken away in chains isn't the kind of closure the court is willing to endorse at this time."
Kirby said she found the judge's remarks offensive, and added that she felt Low was "thinking more about the guilty defendant and his family sitting in the stands."
Vallejo was accused of inappropriately touching Kirby in April 2013, when she stayed at his Provo home while she attended Brigham Young University. She told police Vallejo groped her several times while she pretended to be asleep on his couch.
The second victim reported to police that Vallejo also groped her while she was sleeping on a couch at the Vallejo home in 2014, when she was 17 years old.
A family member reported the abuse to police in January 2015, according to court records. A lawyer with the firm that represents the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints also reported the allegations during that time.
The Tribune does not generally identify victims of sexual abuse, but Kirby agreed to be named.
Attorneys are expected to be in court on Thursday, where McBride who filed a motion asking the judge to reconsider releasing Vallejo will ask the judge again to keep Vallejo behind bars until his April 12 sentencing.
McBride told The Tribune that allowing a defendant to remain free on bail post-conviction is "out of the ordinary" in his experience. With Vallejo facing the possibility of a prison sentence, McBride said he fears the defendant will flee.
"I don't see an incentive for him to stay," he said. "These girls have been through enough, for them to have to worry about him fleeing and getting away with this. They also have other fears and anxieties. Rational or not, they're scared of him, because of what he's done to them. [Vallejo's incarceration] would mean something to them and it would make them feel like what happened to them was bad."
Vallejo's defense attorney, Edward Brass, argued in court papers that his client has never missed a court hearing and has not contacted the victims in the case, as a judge ordered. He should be allowed to go to work and remain free on $25,000 cash-only bail until the sentencing, Brass argued.
"Mr. Vallejo testified at trial and maintained his innocence," Brass wrote, "and would do nothing to prejudice his chance ... for a new trial on appeal."
Brass, who told The Tribune that whether a defendant is allowed to be free post-conviction is established on a case-by-case basis, said he does not believe the judge's ruling was unusual.
Kirby said the judge made other rulings throughout the trial that made her question whether he believed their accounts. Notably, she said, Vallejo was allowed to testify at length about how he enjoyed his work as a bishop for the LDS Church. But the victims, she said, were not allowed to talk about seeing Vallejo watching pornography.
"Why would the judge do that?" Kirby questioned. "I'll never understand."
Eric Hawkins, spokesman for the LDS Church, said in a statement Tuesday that Vallejo was released from his bishop duties as soon as local leaders learned of the allegations in 2015. He said the church has "zero tolerance for abuse of any kind," and supports the law enforcement authorities who investigated and prosecuted the case.