Many of you may have heard about our son, Gregory Sako, the college student from Menlo Park who was convicted of a felony rape in Oregon last year and given a mandatory minimum sentence of 100 months in prison (more than eight years). Under Oregon law, he will not be eligible for early parole or time off for good behavior, and must face 12 years of probation and a lifetime of registering as a sex offender.
Those who know him are aware that he is not a criminal and have strong hopes that an appeal will overturn this conviction. The problem with his case was that at the time the alleged incident occurred, Gregory and his accuser were very drunk, or "hammered" as you might say.
While witnesses that evening insist that "nothing happened" based on what they knew, heard, or saw, Gregory could not remember anything the following day, even though he knew in his heart that he was not guilty of the accusations. He experienced a blackout, characterized by feeling seemingly in control while drinking heavily, but an inability to recall anything the next day.
Because of that night of heavy drinking, his life has been changed forever.
Losing Gregory to an out-of-state prison system following an exhausting court trial has been devastating for him, his friends, and our entire family. He shares a 7-foot x 12-foot cell with another convicted felon 800 miles from home. He eats with plastic utensils. He wears the same type of clothes every day. He sleeps on a hard mattress on a metal frame. The food is horrible and we are prohibited from sending anything.
He has no computer or online privileges, no iPhone, no iPod, and not even access to a typewriter. Calls to his friends are cost-prohibitive. He hasn't seen a tree, a beach, a sunset or even been able to pet an animal in over 15 months.
He gets strip-searched after we visit him. He works with repeat convicts with nicknames we can't repeat. This is how he might be living each and every day until he is 28 years old, because of a night of heavy drinking.
Research has proven that the brain is not fully developed until age 25 and that alcohol has an even greater impact on the brain under this age. People with mature brains are better equipped to make mature choices, like drinking responsibly so that they remain in control of their behaviors. They know their limits, know about proper hydration, know why they should eat when drinking, and why they should not mix types of alcohol. Most importantly, they know when to stop.
College students, however, typically disregard public advice and generally think that nothing bad will ever happen to them. What happened to our son could have happened to any one of us, students and parents alike — not necessarily the nature of the alleged incident, but others equally life-destructive.
No one is invincible to false accusations when the only defense is: "I was drunk. I don't remember." The consequences from drinking too much alcohol can be devastating, as exemplified here. Not only will it affect you, but your community and your whole family as well.
Our son's case is now in the appeal process, which will take several months, and most likely years, yet we have high hopes for a positive outcome. Our family and friends believe in and stand by his innocence wholeheartedly and trust that the truth will come out.
Meanwhile, he remains incarcerated with the conditions described above. Our hearts are broken and the emotional pain and financial drain is a constant in our lives. Whether or not our son's conviction is overturned, his life and soul will never again be the same. His hopes, dreams, and career goals have been completely shattered.
So, students, when you go off to college, please reflect on our son's story from time to time and please share it with your friends. All it takes is one night of heavy drinking to change your and someone else's life forever. Hopefully our son's story can encourage others to stop and think before they take that first drink, that next drink, or believe nothing bad will happen to them. Smart decisions and safe choices prevent lives from being destroyed.
Linda and Tom Sako live in Menlo Park.
To contribute toward Mr. Sako's appeal, send a check to: Peggy McGill, 127 Dunsmuir Way, Menlo Park, CA 94025, payable to FBO G. Sako Legal Defense Fund.