Anna Stubblefield was a tenured professor of ethics at Rutgers University when she fell in love with D.J., the brother of one of her students.
The romantic feelings welled up in her sometime in 2010, less than a year after she started working with him. The two read books, drank wine, even wrote an essay together that D.J. presented at a conference in Philadelphia, Stubblefield said.
Stubblefield, who was married with two children, said her emotions ran so strong that she was willing to leave her family behind to be with him.
“I’m in love with you the whole way,” she told D.J. at one point, as reported by the New York Times.
Stubblefield said she had sex with D.J. in 2011 on the floor of her office on Rutgers campus in Newark, N.J. When they finished, she claimed D.J. told her: “I feel alive for the first time in my life.”
It was an incredible assertion. D.J. likely could not have even have grasped what was happening, much less reciprocated Stubblefield’s feelings.
D.J., now 35, has cerebral palsy. Years before Stubblefield came into his life, a state doctor found that he had the mental capacity of a toddler, unable to carry out “preschool-level tasks,” according to the Times. He is five feet tall, non-verbal and can only walk if someone is there to balance him.
Stubblefield, 46, had convinced D.J.’s family that she could help him speak by using “facilitated communication,” a widely-discredited method of teaching people with mental disabilities how to type messages.
It took many months, but D.J.’s mother and brother eventually came to believe it was all a sham.
In 2011, when Stubblefield confessed that she was in love with D.J., they pursued a criminal case.
A year ago, she was convicted of two counts of aggravated sexual assault, the same crime used to charge violent rapists. A judge sentenced her to 12 years in prison.
Now, she’s facing another punishment: $4 million in damages.
A judge in Essex County, N.J., has ordered Stubblefield to pay $2 million in compensatory damages and $2 million in punitive damages to D.J. and his family in the civil case stemming from the assault, NJ.com reported Tuesday.
“My clients are victims of a horrible predator, and they’re wonderful people,” Charles S. Lorber, an attorney for the family, told NJ.com, adding that the defendant had “basically conceded the case.”
“She’s got 12 years to think about it, and the judgment is good for 20,” he said.
A former attorney for Stubblefield told NJ.com that she represented herself in the lawsuit when the judgment came down.
Stubblefield, who once chaired the Rutgers philosophy department, was the subject of a deeply-reported New York Times Magazine piece last year that detailed how she met D.J. through his brother Wesley and slowly became obsessed with him.
Wesley, identified only by his middle name, was taking one of Stubblefield’s classes when she showed a film about a non-verbal girl who learned to type through facilitated communication and eventually went to college. Wesley told Stubblefield about D.J. and she offered to help, according to the Times.
In the months that followed, Stubblefield purported that she had tapped some buried intellect in D.J., saying that with her hand guiding him he could type in complete sentences, express complex thoughts, and even read at a savant level.
As Stubblefield’s obsession grew, so did the family’s skepticism. When she finally admitted to Wesley and D.J.’s mother that she was in love with him, they told her to leave them alone. Police got involved, and she was charged with first-degree aggravated sexual assault shortly thereafter.
At trial, Stubblefield argued she didn’t rape D.J., saying the sex was consensual, according to NJ.com.
“He wouldn’t let me do anything that he didn’t want me to do,” she testified.
A jury disagreed, finding that D.J. was unable to give consent because of his mental capacity. Jurors convicted Stubblefield after less than three hours of deliberations.
At sentencing, a judge said her actions were “a perfect example of a predator preying.” D.J.’s brother fought back tears during the proceedings, according to the AP.
“She raped my brother,” Wesley said. “She tried to supplant his life with some version of life she thought was better.”