Seven years after former teacher Stacey Dean Rambold had sex with a freshman student who later killed herself, he has been re-sentenced, this time to 10 years in prison, in a case that drew nationwide attention a year ago when a judge commented that the victim was partly to blame and sentenced him to 31 days in prison.
At the end of a 90-minute hearing Friday in a packed Billings courtroom, District Judge Randal I. Spaulding sentenced Rambold to 15 years in Montana State Prison, with five years suspended, for raping 14-year-old Cherice Moralez in 2007.
Moralez committed suicide in 2010 while charges against Rambold, 55, were pending.
“Stacey Rambold’s actions were definitely a factor in her decision to take her own life,” the girl’s mother, Auliea Hanlon, testified Friday. “She was threatened and treated like trash every day at school.”
The girl’s father, John Moralez, also testified briefly, saying, “I can’t stand up here and hate the man … I just want justice to be done.”
Yellowstone County Attorney Scott Twito argued for a 20-year-prison sentence with 10 years suspended. Rambold’s attorney, Jay F. Lansing, asked for a sentence of 15 years commitment to the state Department of Corrections, with all but two years suspended.
"Judge Spaulding’s sentence today ensured justice has been served for Cherice Moralez, her family, and the community of Billings," Attorney General Tim Fox said in a statement Friday.
Spaulding said he considered a number of factors in reaching his decision, including that Rambold was found to have recently viewed online “erotica” and a Craigslist ad for “massage parlor” services.
“I considered your abuse and exploitation of your position of trust as a teacher,” Spaulding also told Rambold, who made a very brief statement.
“I want to say I’m sorry for what I’ve done, judge. Not a day goes by that I don’t think of Cherice’s family and pray that they can find peace. The same goes for my family. I only hope that they can find the end of this, as well — and heal,” he said, breaking down.
After delivering the sentence, the judge ordered Rambold into custody. Rambold was handcuffed and led out of the courtroom — the same courtroom where exactly 13 months before he had been sentenced by then-presiding Judge G. Todd Baugh.
Baugh sentenced Rambold to 15 years with all but 31 days suspended for one count of sexual intercourse without consent. At sentencing, the judge commented that Moralez was “older than her chronological age” and “as much in control of the situation” as her abuser.
That sentence and Baugh’s commented drew nationwide attention to the case.
Prosecutors appealed the matter to the Montana Supreme Court, which kicked the case back to Yellowstone County District Court for re-sentencing by a judge other than Baugh.
Multiple judges declined to hear the case before Spaulding, of Roundup, agreed to re-sentence Rambold.
“What we’ve learned in this case is we all made a horrible mistake,” Twito told Spaudling on Friday. “We all did. We allowed an argument to go forward which was contrary to the law.”
Twito argued that legally Morlez’s conduct should never have been a factor in determining Rambold’s sentence.
Twito also slammed a person who did a psychosexual evaluation of Rambold that was provided to the court. He said that out of all such evaluations he’s seen in his career, he has “never seen a level of victim bashing that went on in that report.”
The identity of the evaluator wasn’t immediately available Friday, nor was the evaluation.
Twito asked Spaulding not to consider any portion of that evaluation or any other information in the case that would place blame on Moralez.
“This is statutory rape,” Twito said. “We don’t get to talk about the conduct of the victim. What the victim does is irrelevant and should not be part of any factors in sentencing.”
Lansing disagreed, and went so far as to say the Montana Supreme Court “misinterpreted” the issue in the ruling made in Rambold’s case.
“They say that the conduct of the victim is irrelevant,” he told Spaulding. “I agree. It is irrelevant for the purpose of determining consent or a defense to the offense — we have never, ever said that her conduct is a defense, ever."
However, he said, there was no law preventing Spaulding from considering Moralez’ conduct in deciding a sentence for Rambold.
Lansing also made another argument, one which could be the basis for an appeal of Rambold’s sentence.
Lansing argued that a sentence beyond the mandatory minimum — incorrectly determined the first time around to be 30 days of commitment rather than two years — would violate Rambold's right to due process and constitute double jeopardy.
The case against Rambold started in 2008 when prosecutors charged him with three counts of sexual intercourse without consent for his ongoing sexual relationship with Moralez from October to December of 2007.
At age 16, Moralez killed herself on Feb. 6, 2010, while the case was pending. Her family sued Rambold and School District 2, leading to an October 2012 settlement for $91,000.
Rambold got an “incredible break” in this case when Moralez killed herself, Twito said on Friday.
In July 2010, prosecutors reached an agreement with Rambold: He would admit guilt and prosecutors would defer prosecuting him for three years if he completed sex offender treatment.
He failed the agreement and was kicked out of sex offender treatment in 2012, prompting prosecutors to reinstate the case against him. He pleaded guilty in April 2013 and was sentenced by Baugh 13 months ago today.
Since then, Rambold has served 31 days, completed sex offender treatment and been under state supervision.
The Montana Supreme Court publicly censured Baugh for his comments about Moralez and suspended him for one month.
Baugh has publicly apologized for his comments and plans to retire at the end of the year.
On Friday, Spaulding ended Rambold’s sentencing hearing by mentioning he had reviewed the recorded statements Moralez made to investigators.
“Mr. Moralez and Ms. Hanlon, I do wish to extend my condolences to you and your family,” he said. “She struck me as incredibly intelligent, profoundly articulate and a beautiful girl. And the world suffered a tragic loss with her passing.”