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Provo • A Utah judge who was criticized for allowing a former Mormon bishop to remain free on bail after he was convicted of nearly a dozen sex abuse-related crimes sentenced the defendant to prison Wednesday.
Fourth District Judge Thomas Low took long pauses and became choked up as he announced his decision to order a prison term for Keith Robert Vallejo, whom a jury convicted of 10 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.
"The court has no doubt that Mr. Vallejo is an extraordinary, good man. But great men," the judge said Wednesday before taking a long pause, "sometimes do bad things."
And as he handed down sentences of one-to-15 years in prison for the second-degree felonies and a five-years-to-life term for the object rape, Low again took a pause to compose himself before ordering the terms to run concurrent to one another.
Julia Kirby who was 19 when Vallejo, her brother-in-law, abused her said last month that when Low made the decision to allow Vallejo to remain free and return home to his wife and eight children, she felt it indicated that the judge did not believe that she and the other woman had been abused.
Low reversed that decision during a March 30 hearing, and Vallejo has been at the Utah County jail since.
On Wednesday, Low said that he agreed with the verdicts and believed the jury got it right. After handing down the sentence, a still-emotional Low told Kirby that she "is a survivor."
"She has already survived," he said. "And if she cannot recover and become stronger and become an advocate and become a comforter to others, then who can? The court believes she is as bright or brighter or as strong or stronger than any other victim of sex crimes that this court has ever seen."
Kirby told The Salt Lake Tribune on Wednesday that she was surprised by the judge's emotion but said she felt like his mind was more on sending a man with a large family to prison and less on the victims.
"I didn't feel it was insincere," she said. "I felt there was a little bit of contradiction in him getting emotional about [sentencing] Keith. If he really, really cared about me or about the fact that this person was a criminal, he wouldn't have that kind of sympathy. It was shocking to me for that reason."
Kirby said she had hoped that Vallejo would receive consecutive sentences for his crimes, because there were two victims in the case. Deputy Utah County Attorney Ryan McBride echoed that same recommendation in court Wednesday, telling the judge that he would change his recommendation if Vallejo would admit to the crimes.
Vallejo has maintained his innocence. And when given the chance to speak in court during his sentencing hearing, he did not admit guilt.
"The justice system is funny," he said. "The whole thing is geared to bullying you into confessing. The whole thing is geared to push you into pleading."
Vallejo's attorney, Edward Brass, asked that his client be sentenced to jail and probation. He asked the judge to look at the way that Vallejo has led his life up to this point as a law-abiding father who has done everything that the court has asked of him. Vallejo is considering an appeal, Brass said.
"The verdict wasn't the verdict we wanted in this case," Brass told the judge. "We the lawyers and Mr. Vallejo respect the jury system; we're not going to fault the verdict, but we disagree with it."
During her remarks to the court Wednesday, Kirby said that, regardless of what anyone else said, she knew that Vallejo victimized her and the other woman.
"I know what happened to me," she said. "And I know what happened to her. No one else was there. No one else can say whether or not they know what happened, but I can. But he knows it and he won't even look at me right now. He knows it. He knows what he did."
The Tribune generally does not identify victims of sexual abuse, but Kirby agreed to be named.
Vallejo was accused of inappropriately touching now-23-year-old 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 and raped 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.
Vallejo was released from his bishop duties as soon as local leaders learned of the allegations in 2015, according to a spokesman with the LDS Church.