A former Iowa State University student was sentenced Thursday to two years' probation as part of a plea agreement for a sexual assault, allowing him to escape prison time altogether.
Patrick Whetstone, 21, pleaded guilty to assault with intent to commit sexual abuse, an aggravated misdemeanor, according to court records. In addition to probation, he must register as a sex offender and will have 10 years of monitoring, with at least half that time under electronic tracking. He must also pay $1,100 in fines and civil penalties, plus court costs.
On March 30, 2014, Melissa Maher reported to police that she awoke on a couch after a party to find Whetstone sexually assaulting her. Whetstone originally pleaded not guilty when he was charged with felony sexual abuse in the third degree in January 2015, arguing the encounter was consensual. If convicted of that crime, Whetstone could have received up to 10 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
He agreed to a plea bargain on Sept. 20, a week before the trial was scheduled to begin, court filings show.
“I think it’s a light sentence, but it lets me open up a new chapter in my life,” Maher, 21, told BuzzFeed News. “I can finally maybe start to move on a little bit. It’s an opportunity to take a break from this, but there are plenty more battles to fight.”
Maher has previously been anonymous in news reports about the case but gave BuzzFeed News permission to use her name. She has since transferred to a new school and was one of 50 sexual assault survivors to appear on stage at the Oscars with Lady Gaga. “To the other survivors,” Maher said, “It’s not your fault, it really isn’t. For a while I thought maybe it was my fault, but I don’t know how I could’ve asked for that, especially when you say ‘no.’”
The guilty plea Thursday knocks down one of several cases winding through the courts related to Whetstone’s assault of Maher.
Maher’s family is suing Iowa State University over its handling of the sexual assault report. Her suit charges that the university took over a year to investigate her case — beyond its guidelines that stated it would only take 60 days — and placed her in student housing adjacent to Whetstone during that time. She left the university but said she was unable to immediately enroll in a new school because the university placed a hold on her transcript seeking past-due fees.
A similar complaint that Maher’s family filed against Iowa State with the U.S. Department of Education prompted an ongoing federal investigation of the university.
“I’m horribly, horribly pissed, not just at [Whetstone], but also at the university,” Maher said. “I have a lot of resentment toward the university for the way they treated me. Iowa State will not take any responsibility for those they say they care about.”
Maher is also suing Whetstone for emotional distress, and he has filed a counterclaim against her. Meanwhile, Whetstone is suing the school seeking to overturn his expulsion that the state Board of Regents, which governs public universities in Iowa, upheld in April, according to the Iowa State Daily.
“It’s a little odd for him to plead guilty and then argue he shouldn’t be expelled,” Maher’s attorney, Andrew Zbaracki, told BuzzFeed News. “It’s highly inconsistent.”
The criminal case against Whetstone was prosecuted by the office of the Iowa Attorney General after Stephen Holmes, the local prosecutor, cited a conflict of interest. Assistant Attorney General Coleman McAllister, who has previously sought office as a Republican but serves for longtime Democratic Attorney General Tom Miller, was appointed to prosecute the case. Whetstone was represented by attorneys Rick L. Olson, a Democratic state representative, and Angela Campbell.
Attorneys for Whetstone and the state attorney general’s office did not respond to request for comment.