Aidan Atkinson has pleaded guilty to two misdemeanors and will receive probation as part of a plea deal that resolves the remaining counts against him, including those related to allegations of sexual misconduct on a party bus in 2018.
Atkinson, 19, was found not guilty on two counts of sexual assault, one count of attempted sexual assault and two counts of unlawful sexual assault following a trial in April.
But there were two remaining counts of unlawful sexual contact on which the jury was not able to reach a unanimous verdict, while several remaining counts related to an allegation of sexual exploitation against a different girl were set for a separate trial.
But on Thursday, Atkinson pleaded guilty to two counts of misdemeanor harassment as part of a plea deal that resolves his entire case.
As part of the plea deal, Atkinson will serve one year of probation and do 50 hours of community service and write a letter of apology. He will also not be able to consume alcohol or use drugs during his probation sentence.
He will be allowed to ask to have the sentence terminated in time for him to go to college in the spring of 2022 if he complies with the conditions of his probation.
As a condition of the plea, prosecutors dropped the remaining counts.
“It’s not the best result or one that we had hoped for,” Boulder Chief Trial Deputy Catrina Weigel said. “But given the procedural posture of where we are at, we felt this was the best decision going forward.”
Atkinson’s attorney Lara Marks Baker said she also felt the resolution was “appropriate.”
“To the extent that his behaviors were harassing to these alleged victims, he is here taking responsibility for that,” Baker said.
Boulder Chief Judge Ingrid Bakke accepted the plea deal, noting that Atkinson was still being tried as a juvenile and that he had successfully been on pre-trial supervision for a significant period of time.
“I think at this moment in time, it’s appropriate from both perspectives,” Bakke said.
Atkinson did not address the court, but his attorneys did release a statement after the hearing condemning the “vilification” of Atkinson by law enforcement, social media and the press.
“Aidan has steadfastly asserted his innocence of the charges against him,” the statement read in part. “He has done that since day one. After acquittals and dismissals, it is important to remember the reasons for the presumption of innocence as a constitutional principle.”
The statement also said that “allegations of illegal videos alluded to in the case were simply not true,” but that Atkinson took the plea deal “to ensure everyone’s lives can move on here without ongoing involvement of the system.”
‘I was ready for my trial, ready to fight’
Prosecutors alleged that Atkinson digitally penetrated and attempted to digitally penetrate two female students against their will on a party bus in 2018 that was transporting students celebrating Fairview High School’s homecoming.
Defense attorneys said Atkinson, who was a 17-year-old junior at the time, did not touch the girls under their dresses and that any dancing or kissing was consensual.
The sexual exploitation charges stemmed from allegations that Atkinson videotaped a student performing oral sex on him without her permission.
All three named victims in the case, two in the party bus case and one in the sexual exploitation case, either spoke to the court or submitted statements.
The mother of one of the party bus victims who was not able to testify because she was abroad read a statement saying that, “we know unequivocally that what happened to (the victim) was inexcusable.”
The other victim in the party bus incident appeared live before the court and talked about how the case impacted her life and the consequences of testifying against Atkinson, who at the time of the allegations was the star quarterback of the football team.
“I went to a high school where sexual assault was the norm,” she said. “Why would anybody believe the girl who threatened the hierarchy of the almighty Fairview football team?”
Meanwhile, the named victim in the sexual exploitation case said she was disappointed her case never went to trial, and expressed displeasure with the plea deal.
“I felt defeated, empty, I felt like the justice system had failed me,” she said. “To see him get off with a harassment charge seemed like a sick joke. I wanted justice for myself and all the other girls that he hurt. I was not harassed, I was sexually exploited. I wish the sentencing today was enough for me, but it’s not.”
She also said that even though the trial was delayed numerous times because of the coronavirus pandemic and that each new trial setting was a new battle with her anxiety and nerves, she wanted to go through with it.
“I was ready for my trial, ready to fight,” she said.
‘This case has split the community’
Weigel said she understood the victims might not be happy with the outcome, but praised them for working with law enforcement during a case that had stretched on for years.
“They have persisted and wanted justice for themselves and each other, despite the difficulties with this case,” Weigel said. “They should be proud of themselves for coming forward and doing what they did.”
Bakke also took time to commend the victims for coming forward.
“That was a truly courageous decision, and one that I’m sure opened you up to lots of scrutiny and criticism,” Bakke said.
Bakke said that she felt the plea deal and sentence was appropriate, but acknowledged that not everyone would feel that way.
“This case has split the community,” Bakke said.
But Bakke urged the community to respect the jury’s decision in the trial and the plea deal reached by attorneys.
“We have to have faith in the system,” Bakke said.
Bakke also defended a few of her decisions in the case, including not letting the second party bus victim testify remotely and severing the charges into two separate trials.
“I tried to make decisions that would keep the case on track and not subject to reversal on appeal,” she said.
Bakke allowed Atkinson to appear for the hearing virtually because of threats made against him, but at several points attorneys told Bakke it did not appear Atkinson was paying attention to the proceedings.
Bakke said, “It would certainly be telling if he isn’t (paying attention) how this will go in his future,” but did not address the issue further. But she did say she was disappointed Atkinson elected to attend the virtual hearing dressed in a hoodie.
“I’m a little shocked by that,” Bakke said. “That in and of itself is disrespectful.”
In closing, she noted that Atkinson’s future was in his own hands now.
“At some point he’s either got to learn from it or he’ll make an even bigger mistake,” Bakke said. “And then he wont be in juvie court.”
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