A former University of Colorado Boulder student was sentenced to prison for raping a fellow student after a sorority event in 2019 and could wind up spending the rest of his life in prison under Colorado’s sex offense laws.
Zachary Roper, 21, was convicted in October of sexual assault on a helpless victim and sexual assault on a victim incapable of appraising conduct and sentenced Friday to four years to life in prison by Boulder District Judge Thomas Mulvahill.
Because of Colorado’s indeterminate sentencing law for sex offenses, Roper will have to complete sex offender treatment and apply for release even after he completes his four-year sentence.
If he is ever released, Roper would have to then serve 20 years to life on parole.
“I need to make sure that Mr. Roper doesn’t do this to somebody else, and I also need the community to know that those offenders who commit these type of egregious offenses will face an appropriate punishment,” Mulvahill said.
But like some judges before him, Mulvahill said the possibility Roper will spend the life in prison due to Colorado’s indeterminate sentencing rules made this a complicated and difficult decision.
“Ever since the jury came back with this verdict, I’ve been thinking about this sentencing,” Mulvahill said. “The Colorado Legislature has done a tremendous disservice to the community by setting up a sex offense sentencing scheme that gives me two options.”
Essentially, Mulvahill said he had the option of giving Roper a probation sentence with a maximum of two years work release or a life sentence in prison with the possibility of parole.
“Those are the two choices I have in this case,” Mulvahill said. “There are intermediate options that are more appropriate, but I don’t have them available. I just don’t.”
Judges have weighed in on the issue in similar cases in Boulder County, the most famous of which may be Austin Wilkerson, who received a probation sentence and work release sentence for sex assault in 2016.
But Mulvahill noted that even within Boulder County, judges have yet to come to any consistent way to sentence these cases, meaning he could not rely on past cases to help make his ruling.
“That criteria doesn’t provide a solution for me,” Mulvahill said.
‘We could wind up making someone more dangerous’
The pre-sentence report done after the trial recommended probation out of concern the impact prison might have on Roper and his ability to be rehabilitated, something his attorney Christopher Decker stressed in his request for probation.
“We could wind up making someone more dangerous by taking a 21-year-old out of the community and sending him to a prison cell where he is not going to get treatment perhaps for years and then deal with him later,” Decker said. “That’s just gonna kick the can down the road.”
Roper’s family spoke on his behalf Friday, and Decker said Roper had a support system that would make probation a viable sentence.
“This is a young man who has been convicted of a horrific crime no doubt, but has a lot of support,” Decker said.
But Boulder Senior Deputy District Attorney Laura Kinde said a prison sentence was more appropriate given the nature of the crime and Roper’s lack of accountability.
“He specifically and intentionally created a situation where the victim was isolated from her friends and completely vulnerable due to her intoxication,” Kinde said.
According to an arrest affidavit, the named victim was in a sorority and attended a “date dash” event in Loveland on Jan. 31, 2019, in which members were asked to bring a date.
The woman was set up with Roper by another member but had never met him before the event. According to the affidavit, the woman was drinking with Roper and others before going up to Loveland, and did not have a clear memory of most of the night.
The woman was sent back to the sorority house in an Uber with Roper when she became too intoxicated, but the Uber driver told police Roper changed the address from the sorority house to his own apartment during the ride.
The driver said the woman was asleep for most of the ride, and needed help getting out of the car because of her level of intoxication.
Another sorority member who had been told to expect the woman to arrive at the house became concerned when she never arrived, and went to Roper’s apartment with several other members.
The women told police they walked into Roper’s bedroom to find him sexually assaulting the woman, and were able to get her out of the room and to a hospital for a sexual assault examination.
“The labels ‘victim’ and ‘survivor’ are now forever attached to me,” the woman said Friday. “Just as I have come to terms with the new aspect of my identity, he need to come to terms that due to his actions he is labeled ‘criminal,’ ‘rapist’ and ‘guilty.’”
‘He does not take responsibility’
The woman said to protect others, Roper “needs to be in prison.” Kinde noted that Roper, who did not address the court Friday, has said he does not believe he needs treatment.
“Even after 12 jurors convicted him, he is still saying that (the victim) had the ability to consent and did so that evening,” Kinde said.
Ultimately, Mulvahill said it was that lack of accountability that led him to differ from the probation department’s recommendation.
“He does not take responsibility for the crime that he committed, not even to a minimal level,” Mulvahill said. “It’s not appropriate to place the defendant in a community-based sentence and attempt to impose treatment when I’ve got a defendant who doesn’t think he did anything wrong. I think the risk of allowing the defendant to remain in the community is greater than what is assessed (in the pre-sentence report), and weighs against a probationary sentence.
“More importantly,” Mulvahill added, “a two-year work release does not come close, in my mind, to setting an appropriate level of punishment for the defendant’s conduct.”
While acknowledging the possibility that he was imposing a life sentence on the 21-year-old due to Colorado’s law, Mulvahill said he had to do “what’s just in the eyes of the community.”
“For Mr. Roper to say that the victim consented, that she knew what she was doing, that this was something that she agreed to, is absolutely unbelievable,” he said. “That type of conduct is planned, it is purposeful, it is deliberate, as Ms. Kinde said, it is predatory. And it justifies a sentence to the Department of Corrections.”
Boulder District Attorney Michael Dougherty released a statement on the sentence Friday.
“The survivor of this sexual assault took the difficult and courageous step of reporting it to the police,” Dougherty said. “At times, victims of sex offenses are reluctant to come forward and report the assault. As a result of this survivor’s decision to come forward, our office was able to secure justice for her and for our community. The Boulder Police Department and our prosecution team, led by Senior Deputy DA Laura Kinde, did an outstanding job on this case.”
In court, the woman’s mother told Mulvahill how proud she was of her daughter and hoped it would give others the strength to come forward. She also hoped Roper’s sentence would serve as a deterrence to others.
“I hope you and every other guy in Boulder has learned a lesson from this,” she said.