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Montana court orders ex-teacher to be resentenced in rape case

Former Montana high school teacher will be re-sentenced for raping a 14-year-old student.
A Montana rape stirred furor when a judge sentenced the victims' teacher to 1 month in jail.

A former Montana high school teacher who was convicted of raping a 14-year-old student will be resentenced and could do more time in jail after the Montana Supreme Court ruled the original one-month sentence was too short.

The case, which stirred national anger against Yellowstone County District Judge G. Todd Baugh, will go to a new judge who will resentence Stacey Dean Rambold. He is the former teacher who served a month in jail after acknowledging having “multiple instances of sexual activity” in 2007 with Cherice Moralez, who committed suicide in 2010.

At the 2013 sentencing hearing, Baugh described the victim as “a troubled youth, but a youth that was probably as much in control of the situation as [Rambold], one that was seemingly, though troubled, older than her chronological age.”

Several groups filed complaints with the state Judicial Standards Commission over the short sentence and Baugh’s comments about the victim.

In its unanimous ruling on Wednesday, the state Supreme Court justices chastised Baugh for his comments, noting that the idea that the girl “could have ‘control’ of the situation is directly at odds with the law, which holds that a youth is incapable of consent and therefore lacks any control over the situation whatsoever.”

Baugh’s “statement also disregards the serious power disparity that exists between an adult teacher and his minor pupil,” the court added. The complaints against Baugh “will be addressed in a separate proceeding,” the court said.

The court said that a new judge would be assigned to resentence Rambold “to preserve the appearance of fairness and justice in this matter.”

Rambold was a 47-year-old high school teacher in Billings when he began having sex with the girl, then 14. He was charged in 2008, and his trial was set for April 2010. Before the trial began, the victim killed herself. Rambold and the state reached an agreement that called for him to start a sexual-offender program and avoid contact with minors.

Rambold failed to comply with the agreement, according to the court papers. By 2012, the state had moved to prosecute again. Rambold eventually pleaded guilty to a charge of sexual intercourse without consent. The state asked for a prison sentence of 20 years with 10 years suspended. The defense asked for a sentence of 15 years with all but 30 days suspended.

Rambold was sentenced by Baugh to 15 years with all but 31 days suspended. He served his time and was released. His attorneys had insisted in court filings that the original sentence was appropriate, and cited a “lynch mob” mentality following the outcry over the case.

Rambold must serve a minimum of two years in prison under state law, Yellowstone County Atty. Scott Twito told the Associated Press. He said he would consult with attorneys in his office and the victim's family before deciding how much prison time prosecutors would seek.

It will be at least 30 days before the case is reassigned and brought before a new judge, he said.

Rambold’s attorney Jay Lansing was not immediately available for comment, his office said.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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