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Outrage after judge calls convicted rapist 'extraordinarily good man' who did something wrong

Keith Vallejo was convicted of 10 counts of forcible sexual abuse and one count of rape. Credit: AP/Utah County Sheriff's Office

A Utah judge has faced a barrage of criticism after calling a former Mormon bishop convicted of rape an "extraordinarily good man" who did something wrong.

During a hearing the defendant's brother also compared him to Jesus.

In March, Judge Thomas Low let Keith Vallejo out of custody after a jury found him guilty of 10 counts of forcible sexual abuse and one count of rape.

However, when Judge Low sentenced Vallejo to up to life in prison on Wednesday, he appeared to get emotional, Jennifer Yim, Executive Director of the Utah Judicial Performance Evaluation Commission, said.

"The court has no doubt that Mr Vallejo is an extraordinarily good man," Judge Low said during the sentencing, adding: "But great men sometimes do bad things."

Julia Kirby, 23, one of Vallejo's victims, said she was shocked by the judge's sympathy.

"That judge didn't care about me," she said.

"He only cared about the person he was convicting, and I think that is really kind of despicable."

Keith Vallejo leaves the courtroom after being found guilty in March. Credit: AP

Ms Kirby agreed to waive her right to anonymity to highlight the judge's comments.

Ms 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.

Judge Low's comments sparked outrage 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," said Turner Bitton, executive director of the Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault.

Ryan McBride, the prosecutor on the case, said Judge Low's comments were inappropriate and that they 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, Mr 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'. "

Jude Low declined to comment.

Vallejo said he "maintained his innocence" and commented that the justice system bullies people into confessing.

The abuse occurred in Provo, a Mormon stronghold that is home to Brigham Young University.

Judge Low attended the school, where almost all students are Mormon, but it is not clear whether he is a member of the faith and there was no indication that he knew Vallejo.