was a Mormon bishop in Utah; convicted of sexually abusing and raping two underage girls; sentenced in 2017 to five years to life in prison

Keith Vallejo Case Summary

Vallejo was a Mormon bishop who went to prison for raping and sexually abusing two underage girls while he was serving as a bishop.

In 2014, Keith Robert Vallejo, a Mormon Bishop was found “guilty of nearly a dozen sex abuse-related crimes… 4th District Court jury found Vallejo guilty often counts of second-degree felony forcible sexual abuse and one count of object rape, a first-degree felony. 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.”

Vallejo, upon conviction in 2016 or 2017, wasn’t taken into custody and for more than a month, was a free man, despite being found guilty of rape.

At the sentencing hearing in Provo, Utah, Fourth District judge Thomas Low (who was then serving as a Mormon bishop of the Valley Hills First Ward of the Heber City Utah North Stake) praised Vallejo as a “an extraordinarily good man” in front of his two victims.

According to a member of Vallejo’s LDS ward at the time of the trial, after the former bishop served time in prison, wealthy ward members pooled a large amount of money to have his name removed from the sex offender’s registry, and Vallejo was reinstated with full membership status back into the ward, assigned to be a youth seminary teacher and a high priest teacher.

That ward member also reported that many ward and stake members had not been informed of Vallejo’s former abuses, and that he victims and their families had been marginalized by the ward and stake for not being more “forgiving” and for not “understanding the atonement.”

In 2022, Vallejo’s wife filed for divorce.

2017-03-29 – Salt Lake Tribune:

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.”

2017-04-14 – Yahoo! News:

“PROVO, Utah (AP) — A woman says she is shocked by a Utah judge’s comments in which he called a former Mormon bishop convicted of sexually assaulting her a “good man” during his sentencing hearing.

Julia Kirby said Friday that Judge Thomas Low appeared to care more for her attacker than he did about her.

“He only cared about the person he was convicting, and I think that is really kind of despicable,” said the 23-year-old Kirby, who has given The Associated Press permission to publish her name

Low sentenced Keith Robert Vallejo to up to life in prison this week after a jury found him guilty of 10 counts of forcible sexual abuse and one count of object rape.

Kirby said she was 19 when Vallejo, a relative, groped her multiple times when she stayed at his house while attending Brigham Young University in 2013.

Kirby plans to file an official complaint against Low in the hopes of getting him removed as a judge.

Low is facing a deluge of complaints after saying “The court has no doubt that Mr. Vallejo is an extraordinarily good man…. But great men sometimes do bad things.”

The criticism began around the time Low freed Vallejo from custody after a jury convicted him, said Jennifer Yim, executive director of the Utah Judicial Performance Evaluation Commission.

But Yim said most of the roughly 40 emails, six voicemails and some Facebook messages received since late March came after Low sentenced Vallejo this week and seemed to get emotional during the hearing.

Ryan McBride, the prosecutor on the case, said Low’s comments were inappropriate and said it may have come in response to more than 50 character letters about Vallejo, most of them detailing the good things he has done. The defendant’s brother spoke at the hearing and compared Vallejo to Jesus in making the argument that he was wrongly convicted, McBride said.

“I don’t think it’s wrong to acknowledge the good things that someone has done in their lives,” the prosecutor said. “But I think whenever you do that in a case like this, you’ve also got to say, ‘But it doesn’t excuse what you’ve done.’ ”

Low declined comment through a court spokesman.

“I maintain my innocence,” Vallejo said during the hearing after a brief comment on how the justice system bullies people into confessing.

The abuse occurred in Provo, a Mormon stronghold that is home to Brigham Young University. Low attended the school, where almost all students are Mormon, but it is not clear whether he is a member of the faith.

There was no indication that the judge had any prior relationship with Vallejo, McBride said. Low would have to disclose something like that, he said.

In the faith, bishops are regular church members who lead their congregations for four to five years. The position is unpaid and part of the religion’s lay clergy structure that makes it different from many other religions.

Low’s comments also sparked outrage Friday from advocates for sexual assault victims.

“The signal that it sends to sexual violence survivors is that if you choose to disclose, that we’re still going to treat your perpetrator as if they’re a good person,” Turner Bitton, executive director of the Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault.”

Sources
  1. 'No one is really saying he's guilty,' says victim after ex-Mormon bishop allowed to go free following sex crime convictions
    view source details | 29 Mar 2017 | Salt Lake Tribune
  2. Convicted sex offender sentenced to possible life sentence in prison
    view source details | 12 Apr 2017 | Provo Daily Herald
  3. Outcry as Utah judge calls Mormon bishop who raped girl a 'good man'
    view source details | 15 Apr 2017 | The Guardian
  4. source - SL Trib
    view source details | 31 Jul 2019 | Salt Lake Tribune
  5. Utah judge at rape sentencing: Ex-Mormon bishop a 'good man'
    view source details | 14 Apr 2017 | Yahoo! News
  6. KEITH ROBERT VALLEJO
    view source details | 1 May 2017 | Utah County
  7. Mormon Stories interview with LDS church member who attended the ward where Vallejo had served as bishop
    view source details | 2 May 2017 | Mormon Stories Podcast
  8. Utah Supreme Court upholds ex-Mormon bishop's convictions
    view source details | 1 Aug 2019 | KUTV
  9. Keith Robert Vallejo of Utah
    view source details | 12 Mar 2023 | Offender Radar
Sources excerpts

Videos: Keith Vallejo Mormon sex crime case

    • Video title: Mormon Stories #733: When Religions Praise and Protect Abusers Pt. 1
    • Video description: In this episode we discuss what happens when religions or religious people praise abusers in front of their victims.In April 2017, Keith Robert Vallejo, a Mormon bishop, was convicted of 10 counts of forcible sexual abuse and one count of object rape, involving two women – who were both staying at his home at the time of the rape/abuse.During his sentencing hearing in Provo, Utah, Fourth District judge Thomas Low (who is currently serving as Mormon bishop of the Valley Hills First Ward of the Heber City Utah North Stake), praised Vallejo as a "an extraordinarily good man" in front of his two victims.
    • Video title: Mormon Stories #734: When Religions Praise and Protect Abusers Pt. 2
    • Video description: In this episode we discuss what happens when religions or religious people praise abusers in front of their victims.In April 2017, Keith Robert Vallejo, a Mormon bishop, was convicted of 10 counts of forcible sexual abuse and one count of object rape, involving two women – who were both staying at his home at the time of the rape/abuse.During his sentencing hearing in Provo, Utah, Fourth District judge Thomas Low (who is currently serving as Mormon bishop of the Valley Hills First Ward of the Heber City Utah North Stake), praised Vallejo as a "an extraordinarily good man" in front of his two victims.

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