BILLINGS, Mont. — A Montana judge appears intent on trying to undo his lenient sentence for a teacher who raped a student as prosecutors have pressed the state Supreme Court to stop him. An emergency petition from the state Attorney General’s Office to block the resentencing is pending Friday, Sept. 6 before the Supreme Court.
The office of Montana District Judge G. Todd Baugh said Friday he plans an afternoon resentencing hearing for rapist Stacey Rambold.
Baugh stoked a furor when he sent the former Billings Senior High teacher to prison for just 30 days and suggested the 14-year-old female victim shared responsibility in the case. Baugh said at Rambold’s Aug. 26 sentencing that victim, Cherice Moralez was “older than her chronological age” and had control over the months-long relationship with her teacher. The teenage victim committed suicide in 2010 while the case was pending. Court documents show there were complaints about Rambold’s conduct with female students as early as 2004. Three years before his relationship with Moralez, prosecutors say, “he was warned to stay away from young girls in his class.”
After apologizing for his comments, Baugh now says a two-year minimum prison sentence appears mandatory and that his original sentence appears to be illegal. On the judge’s order, Rambold was returned from Montana State Prison for the Friday resentencing hearing in Billings.
But both the prosecution and defense say it’s too late for Baugh to turn back the clock, and the case must go through an appeal.
On Thursday, Sept. 5, the Montana Attorney General’s Office submitted an emergency petition asking justices to block the Friday, Sept. 6 resentencing. State attorneys said the hearing would “cause a gross injustice to an orderly appeal.”
Rambold’s attorney said in a Thursday, Sept. 5 court brief that a new sentence “will only create confusion and uncertainty for all parties.” Attorney Jay Lansing also said the original sentence — 15 years with all but 31 days suspended and a one-day credit for time served — was appropriate under the law.
Further complicating the matter is the fact that Baugh never signed a written sentencing order after making his oral pronouncement in the case during an Aug. 26 hearing. The oral order takes precedent in Montana, but the written judgment still is required.
University of Montana School of Law professor Jeffrey Renz said the prosecution and defense appear to have the law on their side in arguing Baugh’s attempt to turn back the clock on the case violates proper procedures.
But as a practical matter Rambold likely will again end up before Baugh one way or another, Renz said, since the Supreme Court would remand the case back to him to fix any sentencing problems.
The 30-day sentence wasn’t challenged as illegal until after the fact, when it was discovered that the mandatory minimum for sexual intercourse without consent was two years in prison.
Baugh has said it was appropriate for Rambold to receive the minimum sentence required. He has described the former teacher as a low-risk offender with no prior record who spent more than two years in a sex-offender treatment program.
Contributed by Bridget Campbell