The Montana judge who sparked national outrage after sentencing a former teacher to 30 days in prison for having sex with a troubled 14-year-old student has ordered a new hearing to determine whether that remarkably light sentence was actually illegal.
Judge G. Todd Baugh found himself in the headlines last week after he suspended all but 30 days of what was originally 54-year-old Stacey Rambold’s 15-year sentence. As attention-grabbing as that sentence was, it was Baugh's apparent rationale for handing it out that fueled the outrage and anger from victims advocates and the local community. During sentencing, Baugh said that the teenage victim, Cherice Moralez, was "as much in control of the situation" as her teacher was, and that she was "older than her chronological age."
Those comments left many disgusted and prompted calls for Baugh's resignation. After initially defending himself, the judge eventually reversed course and published an apology in the Billings Gazette, in which he observed that his comments were "stupid" and had been "demeaning of all women," adding: "I am not sure just what I was attempting to say, but it did not come out correct." He stuck by the sentence, however, explaining then that Rambold's violations of the rules of his treatment program were not serious enough to warrant the reinstatement of significant prison time.
Now, Baugh appears to be having second thoughts, via the Gazette:
In an order filed Tuesday, Baugh set a hearing for Friday at 1:30 p.m. to determine whether the sentence he imposed last week on Stacey Dean Rambold should be revised. Baugh said in the order that the mandatory minimum sentence Rambold should have received appears to be two years, not the 30-day sentence that Baugh ordered on Aug. 26.
"In this court’s opinion, imposing a sentence which suspends more than the mandatory minimum would be an illegal sentence," Baugh said in the order.
Baugh said he imposed the 30-day prison sentence based on a memorandum submitted by the defense, and prosecutors "did not object or otherwise inform the Court on the issue of the applicable mandatory minimum."
Moralez killed herself in 2010 just a few days before her 17th birthday, while the case was still pending. Her mother told the court that the rape was a "major factor" in her suicide.