The Montana judge who sentenced a teacher who raped a 14-year-old girl to just 30 days in jail wants to fix what he now thinks might be an "illegal" sentence. But, following the pattern of Yellowstone County District Court Judge G. Todd Baugh's apparently unique interpretation of state law, prosecutors say that the judge doesn't actually have the authority to increase his sentence. That, they say, can only happen through the appeals process.
So that's exactly what they've done. On Wednesday, state Attorney General Tim Fox filed an appeal that would overturn Baugh's judgement. Baugh, for his part, seems set on going ahead with a hearing he's set for Friday to increase former teacher Stacey Dean Rambold's sentence to the minimum of two years required by law. Rambold, now 54, was sentenced to 15 years by Baugh, but the judge suspended all of that sentence except for what he believed to be the mandatory minimum time served. After reviewing the law setting that minimum, Baugh wrote, "the mandatory minimum seems to be 2 years, and not 30 days...in this Court's opinion, imposing a sentence which suspends more than the mandatory minimum would be an illegal sentence.
Baugh based his lenient sentence in part on his personal assessment of the victim, then-14-year-old Cherice Moralez, who later committed suicide as the court case went through the legal system. In his sentencing, Baugh said that Moralez "seemed older than her chronological age" and was "as much in control of the situation" as Rambold, her teacher, was. Moralez's mother later said that her relationship with Rambold and the ensuing court case was a "major" factor in her death.
The state has appealed to the Montana Supreme court, and asked Baugh to cancel his hearing on Friday. The extraordinarily lenient sentence drew international attention, and prompted protests in Billings, some calling for Judge Baugh's resignation.
Here's Baugh's notice on his original sentence:
Images: A protest of Baugh's ruling (AP); Judge G. Todd Baugh (AP).
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.