For three years, Benjamin Holm was like any other college athlete. He was majoring in business and playing on the golf team at Loyola University Chicago, more than 700 miles from where he had lived in Johns Creek.
But no matter how far away he was, Holm couldn’t avoid felony charges from the night he assaulted a 15-year-old girl.
The attack took place during a party in April 2013 at Country Club of the South, an exclusive development in Johns Creek. Last week, Holm, 21, halted his rape trial — in which the jury was already deliberating — and decided to take the deal the prosecution was offering: 10 years in prison in exchange for pleading guilty to aggravated assault and statutory rape.
In all, 3½ years passed from the time of the assault until Holm’s case was closed last week — years when the accused rapist was permitted to get on with his life, almost as if nothing had happened. Two weeks after the assault, he graduated from high school and then went off to college for three years.
The case languished for as long as it did — and the suspect remained free on bond — partly because of how it was initially handled and partly because of the judicial process. In addition to local police, investigators from both the Fulton County Solicitor and District Attorney’s office reviewed the case.
“It’s not uncommon for us to charge someone with something, and we go to court and the charges have changed or been upgraded,” Capt. Chris Byers with Johns Creek Police said. “That’s what the prosecutors do.”
Holm was initially charged with statutory rape, a misdemeanor in Georgia, and pleaded not guilty, according to a spokesman for the Fulton County DA’s Office. But the county solicitor reviewed the case and determined that Holm should have been charged with rape, a felony. In April 2015, two years after the assault, the case was transferred to the DA’s office, and a year after that, the Fulton County grand jury indicted Holm on a rape charge.
In the meantime, Holm played a lot of golf.
While at Johns Creek High School, Holm had tied for third place at the state championship during his junior year. During his senior year, he accepted a golf scholarship and led his team to a regional championship.
As a freshman at Loyola, Holm played in a number of tournaments, and during his sophomore year was named the golfer of the week for the Missouri Valley Conference. For his junior year, during which his case was upgraded to a felony, he had a 79.9 stroke average, according to Loyola statistics.
Holm isn’t on the golf roster this year. The university declined to respond to questions about Holm’s status.
Friends heard the victim say, ‘No. Stop.’
On the night of April 27, 2013, several teenagers attended a party at a home in the Country Club of the South development, according to a police report. From there, several teens walked to a playground area within the gated community.
“There were boys and alcohol at the playground, and she voluntarily consumed an unknown amount of vodka,” the Johns Creek police report states.
Three of the victim’s friends were worried when they couldn’t find her and went to the playground, Byers said. The friends said they found Holm on top of the drunk teen, whose pants were down.
“They observed the sexual assault taking place and heard her clearly saying ‘No, stop,’” Byers said.
In text messages, Holm admitted having sex with the girl, who was later carried to an SUV by the group of girls, who called the victim’s parents, police said. There were no calls to police from the playground that night. But the victim’s father picked her up and, alarmed by the extent of her intoxication, took her to the hospital, police said. A sexual assault kit was prepared, Byers said. The following Monday, the incident was reported to police, who secured an arrest warrant for Holm.
After he surrendered on May 11, 2013, Holm spent a night in the Fulton County jail before being released on $3,500 bond, records show. Later that month, he graduated from high school.
Being held accountable is a rarity
On Nov. 28 while most students returned to class following Thanksgiving break, Holm was in Fulton County Superior Court for his trial. A week later, he pleaded guilty to aggravated assault and statutory rape charges as part of a plea deal, the DA’s office said. His attorney, B.J. Bernstein, declined to comment on the case
Holm was sentenced to 20 years, including 10 to serve and the remainder on probation, according to the Fulton DA’s office. Holm was booked Dec. 5 into the Fulton jail, where he remained Wednesday night awaiting transfer to prison.
One expert says that what’s really unusual in the Holm case is not how much time elapsed between crime and conviction, but the fact that Holm was charged at all.
“This case with him actually being held accountable is the exception,” Jamie Utt, sexual violence prevention educator, said Tuesday. “There are plenty of people who perpetrate sexual assault who will never, ever be held accountable in any shape or form, let alone a prison sentence.”
A rape prosecution can be a lengthy process, said Asher Burk, legal advocate for the Women’s Resource Center to End Domestic Violence in Decatur. Cases that go to trial, Burk said, must potentially deal with jurors whose opinions are shaped by misconceptions that a crime hasn’t been committed.
“Many people who have children of their own have a hard time wrapping their head around how something like this could happen,” Burk said. “It’s similar to domestic violence. It’s one of those crimes where the victim is often scrutinized far beyond how the suspect is.”
The case should be an example to others, especially teenagers, of the definition of rape, according to Byers, the Johns Creek police captain.
“It’s a good wake-up call for kids to realize that this is a crime,” Byers said. “This isn’t games. This isn’t just sex. This is a crime.”
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