A former Air Force cadet convicted of raping a fellow cadet while the two attended a party in Boulder in 2014 was sentenced to jail and intensive probation Tuesday — but was spared a prison term for the crime.
Boulder District Judge Judith LaBuda sentenced Daniel Ryerson, 22, to six months in the Boulder County Jail and 10 years to life on sex-offender intensive supervised probation.
Ryerson was taken into custody following the hearing. Once released from jail, he will have to comply with treatment before he can be released from probation, and he must register as a sex offender for the rest of his life.
LaBuda could have sentenced Ryerson to up to six years in prison, which could have turned into a life sentence under Colorado's indeterminate sentencing law for sex crimes.
"I lack the mitigating circumstances of remorse on your part in this case," LaBuda told Ryerson. "Despite all that, I find that you have many redeemable qualities that could still permit you to be a functioning member of society in a positive manner if and when you accept responsibility for the crime that you committed: the rape of somebody who trusted you."
Ryerson was convicted by a Boulder County jury in October of sexual assault on a victim incapable of appraising her condition. He was acquitted, however, of sexual assault on a physically helpless victim and second-degree kidnapping.
According to prosecutors, Ryerson and the victim came to Boulder to try to find some parties to attend on Nov. 1, 2014. Prosecutors said the victim got drunk, and Ryerson took her into a bathroom and raped her during a party.
A forensic examination found injuries consistent with sexual assault, and Ryerson's DNA also was found during the examination.
The victim in the case appeared at the sentencing hearing and said that finding out that the man who raped her was not a stranger in Boulder, but a person she knew, added to the anguish.
She said she lived in constant fear of retaliation.
"When I found out after Cadet Ryerson had been arrested, my world came crashing down," she told the judge. "I never thought it could have been him."
"Dignity and respect"
The victim said it also was difficult to hear rumors and accusations from people who supported Ryerson within the Air Force, where Ryerson remained enrolled until his conviction in October. She said that, at one point, she filled out paperwork to leave.
"I cannot comprehend how difficult it must have been for the victim to go back and attend the academy," said LaBuda, who encouraged the Air Force to support her. "I hope there is education to the rest of the cadets so that those individuals understand that she is, indeed, the victim in this case."
Following Tuesday's sentencing, the Air Force Academy released a statement on the case, saying, "The Academy will continue to provide care and support to the victim. The Academy is committed to fostering a culture where each person gives and receives dignity and respect."
Ryerson will receive a dishonorable discharge from the Air Force, officials said.
Boulder County District Attorney Stan Garnett credited the Air Force for its handling of the situation.
"In this case, the Air Force really did a terrific job of supporting the victim and responding appropriately to what happened," Garnett said.
Garnett also credited his staff and the victim for sticking with a difficult case.
"We have a great deal of admiration for the victim in the case, who is a courageous young woman who stuck with the prosecution and dealt with the case with a lot of class and elegance," Garnett said. "I'm proud to have the kind of deputies that can prosecute a case like this, because it is a priority."
"I made mistakes"
Ryerson addressed LaBuda during the hearing, referencing letters in support of his character.
"I want everybody to know, including (the victim), that I made mistakes in judgement and in action, and I am fully responsible for them," Ryerson said.
But Deputy District Attorney Catrina Weigel asked for a four-year prison sentence because Ryerson has continued to deflect blame to the victim. She said several of the letters that Ryerson submitted called the verdict into question or blamed the victim.
"He has taken zero responsibility for his actions," Weigel said. "He portrays himself as the victim in this case, and that's how he sits here today."
LaBuda also brought the letters up, saying many of the sentiments expressed in them were "appalling."
"I must tell you that I was surprised to receive the content of some of the letters sent on your behalf, and it demonstrated poor judgment and caused me concern as to whether you understand the gravity of the conviction," LaBuda said.
Defense attorney John Pineau said Ryerson should not be held responsible for the content of those letters. He said that he was not blaming the victim, but added that both Ryerson and the victim went out that night.
"The facts in the case indicate that there was a joint venture in the case where both people had almost identical conduct, yet one person is demonized and the other is made a victim," Pineau said. "The truth is not typically black or white, it's somewhere in between."
Pineau began to discuss evidence from the case that he felt contradicted the conviction, and pointed out the jury acquitted Ryerson of two other charges, before LaBuda interrupted him.
"Mr. Pineau, your client has been convicted of sexual assault, a Class 4 felony," LaBuda said. "I'd like to suggest you consider that in your statements and argument in the court."
LaBuda warned Ryerson that failure to comply with treatment could land him in prison — and said part of that will be accepting responsibility.
"The victim in this case is not responsible for your actions, Mr. Ryerson," LaBuda said. "Only one party committed sexual assault that night, and that was you."