A Montana judge has come under fire after handing down a 30-day sentence to a former high school teacher convicted of raping a 14-year-old student and for making statements in court that the victim was "older than her chronological age" and "as much in control of the situation" as her teacher.
Outrage is particularly sharp in Billings, where the crime took place, because the girl committed suicide in 2010, just shy of her 17th birthday, as the criminal case was pending. A protest was planned for Thursday, and organizers have called on Montana District Judge G. Todd Baugh to resign.
The uproar began Monday when Baugh sentenced Stacey Dean Rambold, 54, to 15 years in prison on one count of sexual intercourse without consent, but then suspended all but 31 days and gave him credit for one day served. Prosecutors had asked for 20 years in prison, with 10 years suspended.
Baugh said that after reviewing statements made by the girl before her death, he concluded that she was a troubled youth. He then made the controversial remarks, including that he thought the girl had been "as much in control of the situation" as Rambold. The girl's mother, Auliea Hanlon, was in the courtroom and screamed at the judge before storming out, according to the Associated Press.
On Wednesday, Baugh apologized in a letter to the Billings Gazette newspaper, conceding his words were "demeaning of all women." He also said that while a 14-year-old "obviously" cannot consent, "I think that people have in mind that this was some violent, forcible, horrible rape.… It was horrible enough as it is just given her age, but it wasn't this forcible beat-up rape."
Under Montana state law, minors under the age of 16 cannot consent to sex.
"I don't believe in justice anymore," Hanlon said in a statement. "She wasn't even old enough to get a driver's license."
Protest organizer Sheena Rice called the judge's language "horrific."
"Judges should be protecting our most vulnerable children … not enabling rapists by placing blame on victims," she said.
Rambold was first charged in 2008 with three felony counts of sexual intercourse without consent after the girl reported to a church counselor that she had been sexually assaulted by a teacher, court documents show.
After the girl's death, Rambold admitted to one rape charge and entered a plea agreement in which the case would be dismissed provided he complete a sex-offender treatment program and meet other conditions, including having no unsupervised contact with children.
Prosecutors re-filed the charges in December after learning he had been terminated from the treatment program for having unsupervised visits with family members who were minors, according to court documents.
Jay Lansing, Rambold's attorney, had argued that Rambold had "already suffered as a result of his conduct," losing his career and his standing in the community. Lansing, who argued for the same sentence Baugh ultimately delivered, declined to comment Wednesday.
Prosecutor Scott Twito said his office was reviewing the sentence, which relied on an exception in state law that gives the judge latitude on sentencing in cases of sex with minors.
"I think the outcome could have been very different if the judge didn't have the freedom to make those choices," said Marian Bradley, president of Montana's National Organization for Women. Bradley and others are asking the governor and attorney general to review Baugh's actions.
In a statement to The Times, Gov. Steve Bullock said Baugh's comments left him "angry" and "disappointed," but that the Judicial Standards Commission handles complaints about a judge's actions.