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Salt Lake woman accuses federal judge of raping her as a teenager

(U.S. District Court)


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SALT LAKE CITY — A Salt Lake woman who witnessed the 1980 shooting of two black joggers near Liberty Park claims a Department of Justice attorney — now a federal judge — repeatedly raped her while prosecuting a civil rights case against the man who murdered them.

Terry Jackson Mitchell says she was 16 when Richard Warren Roberts, then a 27-year-old federal prosecutor, sexually abused her in a hotel room over several weeks in early 1981, according to a lawsuit filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Salt Lake City.

Roberts, 62, is now the chief U.S. District judge in Washington, D.C.

The results of the trauma suffered by Terry manifested themselves ever since the abuse and continue to this day," said Rocky Anderson, her attorney and former Salt Lake City mayor. "It was an absolute life-changing, harrowing experience for Terry."

Roberts preyed on Mitchell's teenage vulnerabilities and coerced her into sex, threatening that the case against Joseph Paul Franklin would end in a mistrial if anyone found out, according to the lawsuit.

Calls to Roberts' office for comment were directed to high-profile Washington, D.C., lawyer Reid Weingarten. He did not respond to a message left on his voicemail.

Mitchell was walking and jogging with Ted Fields and David Martin when Franklin gunned them down in a crosswalk at 900 South and 500 East on Aug. 23, 1980. She was injured by shrapnel from the bullet that went through Martin's body.

Franklin shot the two African-American men because they were with Mitchell, who is half-white and half-Latina, and Karma Ingersoll, who is white, according to the lawsuit. Franklin, a white supremacist who wanted to start a race war, was convicted of several murders and was executed in Missouri on Nov. 20, 2013.

On the day of the execution, Mitchell received two emails from Roberts that Anderson said triggered repressed memories of the alleged rapes. Anderson wouldn't disclose the contents of the emails but said he has "conclusive proof" that Roberts sexually abused Mitchell.

On the advice of a previous attorney, Mitchell took her allegations to the Utah Attorney General's Office, which launched an investigation in July 2014. The office also later hired former federal judge and University of Utah law professor Paul Cassell to conduct an independent investigation.

On June, 24, 2014, Mitchell sent an email to Roberts about her night terrors and migraines and her history of being raped and sexually abused by men from age 4 until they met, according to an attorney general's report. He called her immediately after receiving the email and Mitchell recorded the conversation.

Roberts acknowledged a relationship but disagreed about the timing, saying he was "very careful about making sure that … your testimony happened and nothing, you know, physical went on until after you had finished your testimony," according to the report.

Franklin was convicted in the federal civil rights case in March 1981. The Department of Justice assigned Roberts to prosecute the case in Utah. After it was over, Roberts left Utah and never returned. On the last day of the trial, he took pictures of Mitchell clothed and unclothed with a Polaroid camera, giving the clothed ones to her and keeping the nude ones for himself, according to the lawsuit.

Roberts later intimidated her not to say anything or Franklin would come back and kill her and her family, said Spencer Austin, the Utah attorney general's chief criminal deputy.

State investigators concluded that because they were bound by 1981 Utah law, the most they could charge Roberts with was a class B misdemeanor. Under state law at the time, Mitchell was old enough to consent to sexual relations.

Austin said the state decided a class B misdemeanor wasn't "effective justice" and chose to pursue an administrative case.

Cassell recommended the state refer its findings to the Salt Lake County District Attorney's Office, the Utah U.S. Attorney's Office, the Department of Justice and the U.S. House and Senate judiciary committees.

"While Mr. Roberts appears to not have committed any crimes, he quite clearly appears to have acted unethically in having sexual relations with a 16-year-old witness in a serious federal prosecution he was handling," Cassell wrote.

Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, chairman of the House Government Oversight Committee, said in a statement that the Utah Attorney General's Office recently made the panel aware of "credible' evidence of misconduct by Roberts.

"Our initial review of the allegations has caused alarm and distress over their serious nature," he said. "We will work with the House and Senate Judiciary committees to determine next best steps to ensure justice is served."

Anderson called Roberts' alleged actions "utterly reprehensible." He described Mitchell, now a married mother of two and a Salt Lake real estate agent, as an "amazingly courageous, principled woman who is doing this for all the right reasons."

"She hopes to communicate the message to others who are engaged in victim-blaming and who are concerned about what the response by other people might be to take a stand against perpetrators and hold them accountable," Anderson said. "She's willing to take this on to vindicate not only her own rights but to provide such a great example for others who have suffered like she has."

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Dennis Romboy

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