An embattled Montana District judge announced plans to resentence a teacher who was given 30 days in prison for raping a 14-year-old student after a campaign aimed to force his resignation. After penning a letter last week in which he apologized for describing the rape victim as appearing “older than her chronological age,” Judge G. Todd Baugh said he planned an afternoon resentencing hearing for Stacey Dean Rambold.
The victim, Cherice Morales, committed suicide in 2010, when the rape case was still pending, just weeks before her 17th birthday. Baugh generated widespread outrage when he said in court that after listening to recorded statements she made before her death, he came to believe that she was a troubled young woman, but was nonetheless “as much in control of the situation” as her rapist, who was 49 at the time.
Baugh’s comment that Morales had been “older than her chronological age” further enraged residents of Billings, Mont., who gathered in protest outside of the courthouse last week, with signs like “Resign” and “Justice 4 Cherice,” CNN reported. A petition requesting Baugh’s resignation on the website MoveOn.org had amassed nearly 56,000 signatures on Friday.
According to the Missoulian, Morales’ mother, Auliea Hanlon, was particularly enraged by the sentence and “repeatedly screamed ‘You people suck!’ and stormed out of the courtroom.” Hanlon testified in court that the sexual relationship between Rambold and Morales was a “major factor” in her daughter’s suicide.
Hanlon issued a statement after the hearing saying that she “looked on in disbelief” as Baugh pronounced the sentence. "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," Hanlon told the Gazette. "I guess somehow it makes a rape more acceptable if you blame the victim, even if she was only 14."
Days after the sentence was pronounced, Baugh issued an apology to the Billings Gazette, saying he was "not sure just what I was attempting to say, but it did not come out correct."
He added to reporters: "I don't know what I was thinking or trying to say. It was just stupid and wrong."
On Friday, Judge Baugh reversed his position, saying that upon reconsideration, it appears that a two-year prison sentence for Rambold is mandatory, the Associated Press reported. However, both the defense and prosecution say that Baugh’s decision came too late, and that the case would need to go through the appeals process.