Activists to protest judge’s comments in Montana rape case
With a teenage rape victim dead and her rapist due to spend just 30 days behind bars, angry activists planned to protest a Montana judge’s dismissive comments about the case Thursday.
Earlier this week, State District Judge G. Todd Baugh, 71, sentenced former high school teacher Stacey Dean Rambold to 15 years in prison, with all but 31 days suspended. Rambold, 54, received credit for one day served, leaving 30 days due. Prosecutors had asked for 20 years, with 10 years suspended.
The victim was 14 when the rapes began. She committed suicide in 2010, at age 16.
Rambold was charged in 2008 with three felony counts of sexual intercourse without consent after the girl reported to a church counselor that she’d been sexually assaulted by a teacher, court documents show.
The girl’s suicide complicated the case, prosecutors say. Rambold admitted to one rape count and entered an agreement with prosecutors that would have allowed the case to be dismissed if he completed a sex offender treatment program and met other conditions, including no unsupervised contact with children.
But prosecutors refiled three felony charges against Rambold in December after they learned he had been terminated from the treatment program for having unsupervised visits with family members who were minors, and for failing to inform counselors about a sexual relationship he was having with a woman, according to court documents.
Rambold admitted to one of the three counts in a plea deal.
During Monday’s proceedings at the Yellowstone County Courthouse in Billings, Baugh said he had reviewed the girl’s statements and it was clear she was troubled. He added that she was “older than her chronological age” and “as much in control of the situation” as her teacher was.
Under Montana law, minors under age 16 cannot consent to sex.
Advocates for rape victims want the judge to resign, calling his comments “horrific.”
“This is really the kind of stuff that’s been propagating rape cultures for a long time,” said Sheena Rice, who is organizing Thursday’s protest, to be held at a park adjacent to the courthouse. The demonstration will include a moment of silence for the victim.
“Judges should be protecting our most vulnerable children … not enabling rapists by placing blame on the victims,” Rice said.
During the sentencing, the girl’s mother, Auliea Hanlon, screamed at the judge before storming out of the courtroom.
“I was horrified,” Hanlon told CNN Wednesday night. “He broke the law, he confessed, and he got to walk away.”
In a statement released Tuesday, Hanlon said she didn’t “believe in justice anymore.” Her daughter, she said, “wasn’t even old enough to get a driver’s license.”
Baugh apologized in a letter to the Billings Gazette on Wednesday, saying his words were “demeaning of all women.” He also said that although a 14-year-old “obviously” cannot consent to sex, “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.”
Marian Bradley, president of the Montana National Organization for Women, said such language and lenient sentences for sex crimes discourage victims of sexual violence from coming forward.
“It makes it very, very difficult for women to trust the system,” Bradley said. “We shouldn’t be doing that in 2013.”
At Monday’s hearing, defense attorney Jay Lansing said that Rambold had “already suffered as a result of his conduct,” losing his teaching career, his standing in the community and relationships with family and friends. Lansing, who argued for the lighter sentence, said his client’s risk level for reoffending was “exceptionally low.”
Baugh did not respond to calls for comment from The Times.
Lansing declined to comment to The Times.
Prosecutor Scott Twito said his office was reviewing the sentence, which relied on an exception in state law that gives judges latitude on sentencing for sex with minors. “We disagree with the sentence that the court imposed. We will look at the sentence to make sure that the exception the court applied was properly applied,” he said, but added that his office must have a legal basis to appeal.
Bradley and other activists are asking the governor and the state attorney general to review the judge’s conduct and the sentence. “I think the outcome could have been very different if the judge didn’t have the freedom to make those choices,” Bradley said.
Gov. Steve Bullock, a Democrat, told The Times in a statement that Baugh’s comments left him “angry” and “disappointed,” but that the Judicial Standards Commission has the authority to handle complaints about judges.
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