Billings’ most widely scrutinized criminal case in years — the rape of a teen who later killed herself, her abuser's 31-day prison sentence and a judge’s comments about the victim — is set to draw to a close Friday, six years after charges were filed.
Visiting District Judge Randal I. Spaulding, of Roundup, is scheduled to re-sentence 55-year-old Stacey Dean Rambold, a former Billings high school teacher, at 1:30 p.m. Friday.
Rambold will be sentenced on one count of sexual intercourse without consent for having sex with one of his students, 14-year-old Cherice Moralez, in 2007. She committed suicide in 2010.
Rambold’s attorney, Jay F. Lansing, is seeking the minimum sentence allowed by law, 15 years with all but two years suspended, court records say.
Lansing argues that a sentence harsher than the minimum — incorrectly determined the first time around to be 31 days of commitment rather than two years — would violate Rambold's constitutional right to due process by punishing him twice for the same offense.
Yellowstone County Attorney Scott Twito is seeking a 20-year prison sentence, with 10 years suspended — the same sentence prosecutors asked for 13 months ago, when Rambold’s initial sentence and comments made by then-presiding Judge G. Todd Baugh drew nationwide ire.
From the bench, Baugh commented that Moralez was “older than her chronological age" and “as much in control of the situation” as her abuser. The judge ordered Rambold to serve 15 years with all but 31 days suspended and to complete sex offender treatment.
Rambold has finished treatment and spent 31 days in prison, court records say, but prosecutors appealed the sentence.
The Montana Supreme Court overturned the sentence and ordered a judge other than Baugh to issue a new one. The high court also publicly censured Baugh, who is retiring at the end of the year, for his comments and suspended him for a month.
Every district judge in Yellowstone County and a judge in the 16th Judicial District recused themselves from the controversial case before Judge Spaulding agreed to re-sentence Rambold.
On Friday, multiple witnesses are expected to testify, including the victim's mother, Auliea Hanlon, and a man who has administered sex offender treatment to Rambold, according to court records.
Dr. Brenda Roche, a Billings neuropsychologist, is also expected to testify about the cognitive abilities of a 14- or 15-year-old and “what importance to give the statements the victim made in this case,” court records say.
Twito said in court papers filed Wednesday that Rambold recently searched Craigslist for “massage parlors” in Billings and viewed an “erotic image” of a woman online.
That portrayal contrasts with the self-image Rambold gives in a letter he wrote to Spaulding, offering “insight into my life and the person that I am instead of how the media has depicted me.”
“No one can really appreciate and understand what it feels like to have so many people actually hate you and be disgusted by you,” he states in the two-page letter filed in District Court.
Rambold talks about his regret and shame, media scrutiny, sex offender treatment and being proud he has been able to “resurrect himself.”
“I pray to God every single day for (Cherice Moralez) and ask her for her forgiveness. I think often of her family and wish that I could tell them myself how sorry I am for their loss,” he said.
Moralez killed herself on Feb. 6, 2010. She was 16. Her family sued Rambold and School District 2, leading to an October 2012 settlement for $91,000.
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.
During the investigation, a detective spoke with another of Rambold’s former students. She reported that Rambold had acted inappropriately toward her and other students on numerous occasions, court records say.
But it would be years before Rambold would admit guilt.
Moralez’ death “severely” hampered the state’s case against Rambold, Twito said in a court filing.
In July 2010, prosecutors reached an agreement with Rambold: He would admit on the record to felony rape and go through probation and sex offender treatment; in exchange, prosecutors would defer prosecution for three years, with the option to take him to trial and use his admission of guilt against him if he failed any conditions of the agreement.
In November 2012, he was booted from sex offender treatment for skipping too many sessions, concealing a sexual relationship with an adult woman and unauthorized contact with underage relatives, court records say.
Prosecutors reinstated the case against him, and he pleaded guilty in April 2013.
On Aug. 26, 2013, Rambold went before Judge Baugh for sentencing. However unlikely, Rambold could have faced up to life in prison.
Instead, he received 31 days behind bars followed by 14 years and 11 months of suspended time.
That sentence coupled with Baugh’s comments about Moralez unleashed a maelstrom of anger at the judge from advocates across the country and Moralez’ family. He later apologized for his comments.