Judge apologizes for remarks about teen rape victim

2013-08-28T10:30:00Z 2014-05-16T11:57:08Z Judge apologizes for remarks about teen rape victimBy GREG TUTTLE gtuttle@billingsgazette.com The Billings Gazette

District Judge G. Todd Baugh issued an apology Wednesday morning for remarks he made about a 14-year-old rape victim.

"I don't know what I was thinking or trying to say," Baugh told The Billings Gazette. "It was just stupid and wrong."

Also on Wednesday, Billings School District Superintendent Terry Bouck issued a statement saying he disagrees with the sentence imposed by Baugh.

The judge's apology comes two days after a sentencing hearing for former Billings Senior High teacher Stacey Rambold, who admitted to raping 14-year-old student Cherice Moralez. The girl later committed suicide.

At the hearing on Monday, Baugh ordered Rambold to serve 15 years in prison, with all but 31 days suspended, for a single count of sexual intercourse without consent. Rambold received credit for one day already served.

While explaining the sentence, Baugh said he had reviewed statements Moralez made to investigators before her death and determined that while she was a troubled youth, she also was "as much in control of the situation" as the teacher.

Baugh also said Moralez was "older than her chronological age."

Moralez's mother, Auliea Hanlon, was angered by the sentence and stormed out the courtroom, shouting "You people suck!" She testified at the hearing that the rapes of her daughter were a major reason for her suicide, and she asked the judge to send Rambold to prison.

Hanlon issued a statement Tuesday saying she "looked on in disbelief" at the hearing.

"I guess somehow it makes a rape more acceptable if you blame the victim, even if she was only 14," Hanlon said in the statement. 

The judge's statements were picked up by numerous national and international news organizations and sparked outrage among many people, including the Montana chapter of the National Organization for Women.

A petition seeking Baugh's resignation is being circulated, and a protest has been planned for Thursday.

Bouck, who became the superintendent last year, said that the school district's involvement in the case "ended several years ago."

In October 2012, a few months after Bouck was hired, the district paid $91,000 to settle a wrongful death claim filed by Moralez's family.

"What Mr. Rambold did when he was teacher was repugnant and inexcusable," Bouck said. "While I respect our court system, I disagree with the sentence, and I believe Mr. Rambold deserves to spend more time in jail than 30 days."

Baugh said Wednesday morning he regrets the statements he made during the court hearing. He also submitted a letter to the editor for publication in The Gazette, stating he is "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 said in the letter. "My apologies to all my fellow citizens."

Baugh said he plans to write an addendum to the court file this week explaining his reasons for the sentence he imposed more thoroughly.

Baugh told a reporter he believes the 30-day jail sentence was appropriate given the nature of the case. He likened the hearing Monday to a probation violation in which a defendant is re-sentenced for violating terms of a suspended sentence.

As he did Monday in court, Baugh said Wednesday he believes the violations of the deferred prosecution agreement between Rambold and state prosecutors were not serious enough to warrant a lengthy prison term.

After serving 30 days in jail, Rambold will be on probation and supervised by state authorities for 15 years, and he will be required to register as a sexual offender.

Baugh said the outrage that followed reports of his statements during the hearing on Monday were "perfectly understandable."

In 2008, Rambold was charged with three counts of sexual intercourse without consent for an ongoing sexual relationship with Moralez, a Senior High student.

Rambold had previously been placed on paid leave from his job as a business and technology teacher after school officials learned of the allegations. He later resigned and surrendered his teaching certificate.

While the criminal case was pending, Moralez committed suicide, which became a complication for the prosecution of Rambold.

As a result, Rambold and the Yellowstone County Attorney's Office entered into a deferred prosecution agreement.

The agreement stated that prosecutors would hold the charges in abeyance on condition that Rambold complete a sex offender treatment program and abide by other conditions, including having no unsupervised contact with minors.

In addition, Rambold provided a written statement admitting to a single rape charge.

In December, prosecutors refiled the three felony charges against Rambold after learning he had been terminated from the sex offender treatment program.

The case then resulted in a plea agreement in which Rambold pleaded guilty to one rape charge and prosecutors dismissed the two remaining charges.

Rambold was sentenced Monday on the single rape charge.

At the hearing, prosecutors recommended Rambold receive a sentence of 20 years in prison, with 10 years suspended.

Copyright 2014 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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