Island Lake woman sentenced to probation in 2016 revenge porn case

  • Bethany Austin of Island Lake, left, hugs friend Deirdre Reishus after hearing McHenry County Judge Michael Coppedge sentenced her to one year of conditional discharge and 100 hours of community service for printing and distributing sexually explicit photos that her fiancé received from another woman. The case challenged Illinois' revenge porn laws in front of the Illinois Supreme Court.

    Bethany Austin of Island Lake, left, hugs friend Deirdre Reishus after hearing McHenry County Judge Michael Coppedge sentenced her to one year of conditional discharge and 100 hours of community service for printing and distributing sexually explicit photos that her fiancé received from another woman. The case challenged Illinois' revenge porn laws in front of the Illinois Supreme Court. Matthew Apgar/Shaw Media

 
 
Updated 6/25/2021 8:53 AM

An Island Lake woman was sentenced Thursday to conditional discharge for printing and distributing sexually explicit photos that her fiancé received from another woman.

McHenry County Judge Michael Coppedge sentenced 44-year-old Bethany Austin to one year of conditional discharge in a case that challenged Illinois' revenge porn laws in front of the Illinois Supreme Court.

 

In addition to her conditional discharge, a form of nonreporting probation, Austin must complete 100 hours of community service, Coppedge ordered.

"I'm thankful to the judge," Austin said after court Thursday. "He showed some compassion."

Austin cried ahead of her sentencing Thursday as she asked for leniency.

"I am remorseful, and I am truly embarrassed of my actions," she said.

Coppedge found Austin guilty in April of nonconsensual dissemination of a sexually explicit image. According to the judge's ruling, Austin should have known the photographs she discovered on her now ex-fiancé's iPad in 2016 were not intended to be shared.

Austin was charged in 2016 under Illinois' "revenge porn" law after she mailed to friends and family a four-page letter that included screenshots of text messages and explicit photos of another woman she had found on her fiance's iCloud account, court records show. Austin had found the messages shortly before the couple split up, and she had mailed the messages and photos months later.

by signing up you agree to our terms of service
                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

She had hoped the letter and its contents would dispel rumors, which she believed her ex-fiancé was spreading about the breakup, her attorneys said.

In 2018, McHenry County Judge Joel Berg ruled Austin was exercising freedom of speech by sharing the photos.

Later that year, however, the majority of Illinois Supreme Court justices agreed that disseminating sexual images without consent is not a right protected by the First Amendment and the case was returned to McHenry County.

Still, Austin's attorneys argued at trial that it was a "natural and expected outcome" that she would share the images and claimed Austin had a "lawful right" to do so in an attempt to defend her reputation.

"It's clear from the evidence that Bethany was not the aggressor in this situation," one of Austin's attorneys, Wayne Giampietro, said in court.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

The state's revenge porn laws were fairly new at the time of Austin's arrest, Coppedge said. The judge went on to say Austin "acted under strong provocation" and is unlikely to reoffend.

"You are without question a good person who made a bad decision," he said.

Coppedge came to that conclusion after reading several letters that Austin's acquaintances wrote on her behalf. Although Coppedge said letters in those vein often read as "superficial," the judge found Austin's particularly convincing.

The letters, which were not read in open court, served as "deep" and "sincere" reflections of Austin's character, Coppedge said, citing mention of her community involvement.

McHenry County Assistant State's Attorney Kyle Bruett, however, claimed there are two versions of Austin. Although she might be the person described in those letters, Austin also is someone who might respond "to put it lightly, inappropriately," in moments of stress, Bruett said.

The prosecutor declined to comment on Austin's sentence after court Thursday.

0 Comments
                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 
Article Comments
Guidelines: Keep it civil and on topic; no profanity, vulgarity, slurs or personal attacks. People who harass others or joke about tragedies will be blocked. If a comment violates these standards or our terms of service, click the X in the upper right corner of the comment box. To find our more, read our FAQ.