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Rapist gets 11-year term

Rapist gets 11-year term

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A 22-year-old Bryan man convicted this week in the date rape of a Texas A&M University freshman was sentenced by a jury Friday to 11 years in prison.

Like all sexual assault convicts, Lance Benjamin Leftwich will have to serve at least half of his sentence before he is eligible for parole. He could have faced up to 20 years in prison.

"We're not dealing with somebody who cannot control his sexual appetite," prosecutor Kara Comte told jurors during closing arguments Friday morning, urging them to hand him a sentence of between 15 and 20 years. "This is about controlling women."

Leftwich was found guilty of forcing sex on a woman, then 18, whom he had met at a church function one day before the incident. The two had hit it off, the woman testified, and after two subsequent nights out together she agreed to make out with him on his bed. But he then took things further, despite her repeated objections, she said.

The defendant's attorneys have maintained the sex was consensual at the time. They said the woman needed an excuse to explain to her religious friends and family why she lost her virginity before marriage.

During Friday's closing arguments, however, prosecutors mentioned Leftwich's ex-girlfriend as much as, if not more than, they mentioned the sexual assault victim.

Houston resident Tasha Smith described earlier in the punishment hearing an abusive relationship with Leftwich that ended shortly after he choked her with a bed sheet until she passed out and then held a knife to her throat. After she left him, her family had to go into hiding because he threatened to kill them, she said.

Leftwich was on probation for the 2003 incident when the rape occurred one year later.

"This man is a rapist, he's an abuser and a control freak," Comte told the jury, describing rape as another form of control. "Finally somebody else has control."

Defense attorney David Barron conceded there was no way to "sugarcoat" the knife incident. But it was the mistake of a young man, and he has already been convicted and paid the price for it, Barron said, asking jurors to think back on mistakes they made in their lives.

Leftwich was still quite immature when he moved to Brazos County from New Mexico, Barron added, telling the jury it's common for young people to go through volatile relationships. He implored the panel to focus primarily on the rape charge as they chose a punishment.

"Is it unreasonable to still assume she removed her clothing?" Barron said, repeating his argument from earlier in the week, before Leftwich's guilty verdict. "It started out as a consensual situation and ended with him taking it one step further than he should have."

Leftwich isn't a "rapist" in the common sense of the word, Barron added, explaining that he isn't the type who jumps out from behind bushes attacking women at random.

"He will not be a danger to other women," Barron said, arguing that probation would be a better solution than prison time. "This is an isolated incident that occurred because of the unique circumstances."

But Leftwich couldn't follow probation the first time, prosecutor David Hilburn countered, pointing out that just one week ago a witness reported seeing the defendant at the Texas Hall of Fame. According to the rules of Leftwich's previous probation, he was not allowed to frequent any bars.

"Because the defendant's a liar, you can't trust him to self-report," he said. "You can't trust a word he says."

Leftwich's main problem seems to be with strong women who resist his controlling tendencies, Comte later added, dismissing Barron's contention that his client's youth should merit probation.

"I've made stupid decisions, [but] I haven't held a knife to anybody's throat," she said. "None of you gentlemen have ever raped a woman. Only you have the control over when ... he's going to abuse another woman.

"He hasn't changed. He's not going to change."

• Craig Kapitan's e-mail address is craig.kapitan@theeagle.com.

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