(Photo: Larry Mayer, Billings (Mont.) Gazette via USA Today)
A Montana judge is under fire for sentencing a 54-year-old former teacher to just 30 days in jail for raping a 14-year-old girl who later committed suicide.
District Judge G. Todd Baugh, in sentencing Stacey Rambold on Monday, said victim Cherice Moralez was "as much in control of the situation" as her teacher, referring to Cherice as a troubled youth "older than her chronological age," the Billings Gazette reports.
Cherice was 16 when she killed herself in 2010 after the case was sent to criminal court.
Baugh stood by his decision Tuesday and again Wednesday.
"Obviously, a 14-year-old can't consent. I think that people have in mind that this was some violent, forcible, horrible rape," Baugh said Tuesday. "It was horrible enough as it is, just given her age, but it wasn't this forcible beat-up rape."
Wednesday, the judge apologized for his remarks but not the sentence.
"I don't know what I was thinking or trying to say," he told the Gazette. "It was just stupid and wrong."
He submitted a letter to the editor expanding, saying he was "not sure just what I was attempting to say, but it did not come out correct."
"What I said is demeaning of all women, not what I believe and irrelevant to the sentencing," Baugh wrote. "My apologies to all my fellow citizens."
He told the paper he would more thoroughly explain his reasoning behind the sentence and add it to the court file this week.
The sentence came after Rambold was terminated in November from a sex-offender treatment program that was part of a deal to defer prosecution for felony rape, the Gazette reports. Rambold had been having unsupervised visits with minors, who were family members, and did not inform counselors that he had been having sexual relations with a woman.
The judge said he wasn't convinced that the reasons for Rambold's termination from the program warranted the 10-year prison term recommended by prosecutors.
After his 30-day jail term ends, Rambold will be on supervised probation for 15 years and must register as a sex offender.
Wednesday, the newspaper reported, Baugh reiterated that the sentence was "appropriate given the nature of the case." He compared Monday's hearing to "a probation violation in which a defendant is resentenced for violating terms of a suspended sentence," the Gazette wrote.
Cherice's mother, Auliea Hanlon, left Monday's sentencing hearing screaming, "You people suck," the Gazette reported. Some victims advocates are calling for the judge to be censured.
Tuesday, Hanlon issued a written statement: "As I looked on in disbelief, Judge Baugh stated that our teenage daughter was as much in control of the situation as her teacher was," she wrote. "She wasn't even old enough to get a driver's license. But Judge Baugh, who never met our daughter, justified the paltry sentence saying she was older than her chronological age.
"I guess somehow it makes a rape more acceptable if you blame the victim, even if she was only 14."
A protest was planned for Thursday near the Yellowstone County Courthouse in Billings.
"Something is not right with our system when a judge can make that kind of decision," Marian Bradley of the Montana National Organization for Women told the Gazette. "Unless we show our outrage, none of our children are safe, and no one will think of us. I think the judge needs to be reviewed, and he needs to be sanctioned."
Bradley said she will circulate a petition calling for the state to investigate Baugh's sentence, although county prosecutors said it was within state sentencing guidelines.
Baugh told the newspaper Tuesday that he stood by his comments that Cherice was a troubled youth who was older than her age when it came to sexual matters. That didn't make Rambold's sex with Cherice any less of a crime, he said.
The teen's death complicated the case, Baugh said.
"I think what people are seeing is a sentence for rape of 30 days. Obviously on the face of it, if you look at it that way, it's crazy," the judge said. "No wonder people are upset. I'd be upset, too, if that happened."
Contributing: Associated Press