New hearing set in 30-day rape sentence
BILLINGS, Mont. — A Montana judge under fire for his comments about a 14-year-old victim in a schoolhouse rape case has ordered a new sentencing hearing for the former teacher who received just 30 days in prison for the crime.
In setting the hearing for Friday afternoon, District Judge G. Todd Baugh said Tuesday that state law appears to require that a two-year mandatory minimum prison term be imposed against Stacey Rambold, 54, of Billings.
Rambold last week was sentenced to 15 years with all but 31 days suspended and a one-day credit for time served. He began serving his monthlong term last week at the state prison in Deer Lodge.
“In the Court's opinion, imposing a sentence which suspends more than the mandatory minimum would be an illegal sentence,” Baugh wrote.
The judge faced widespread condemnation from women's rights activists, elected officials and others for saying Rambold's 14-year-old victim, Cherise Moralez, was “older than her chronological age” and asserting that she had some control over her months-long relationship with Rambold. Moralez killed herself before Rambold's case came to trial.
The judge later apologized, although activists who have called for him to resign said an apology is not enough.
Prosecutors had been considering an appeal, citing the two-year minimum requirement.
But in a twist, Yellowstone County Attorney Scott Twito said Baugh may lack authority to impose such a sentence at this point. That's because state law says an illegal sentence must be handled through the appeal process.
Twito said he planned to be in Baugh's courtroom on Friday but was unsure how the hearing might play out.
“I've done this a long time, and I'm in an area I have not been in before,” said Twito, now in his 16th year as a prosecutor.
Twito said members of his office, along with Rambold's defense attorney, Jay Lansing, met informally with Baugh last week to discuss the case.
If the prosecutor's reading of the law stands up, that could give the defendant the advantage in Friday's hearing.
Twito said his office will continue to pursue a possible appeal if the sentence remains unchanged.