BILLINGS, Mont. — The mother of a 14-year-old girl who was raped by her teacher and later committed suicide appeared at a raucous Thursday protest against the judge who sentenced the man to a month in jail and said the victim was “older than her chronological age.”
The protest came as prosecutors considered an appeal of the sentence by Montana District Judge G. Todd Baugh, whose actions in the case have drawn condemnation from across the country. Joining in the backlash was Montana’s governor, who said the judge’s comments “made me angry.”
The victim’s mother, Auliea (ah-LEE-ah) Hanlon, said the judge was merely “covering his butt” when he apologized on Wednesday for his comments. She criticized him for standing by the relatively light sentence given to former Billings Senior High School teacher Stacey Rambold.
“He’s just covering his butt. He wouldn’t have said anything if people hadn’t spoken up,” Hanlon told an Associated Press reporter. “He didn’t reverse his decision, so it’s irrelevant.”
Hanlon’s daughter, Cherice Moralez, killed herself before Rambold’s case came to trial.
Billings Public Schools Superintendent Terry Bouck described Rambold’s actions with Moralez in 2007 as “repugnant.” He said the months-long relationship between teacher and student was grossly inappropriate, and that he disagreed with the 30-day sentence.
A legal review of Monday’s sentencing suggests Rambold may have gotten off too easily.
That review determined that if Baugh had applied the proper section of state law, the defendant would have received a minimum of two years in prison, according to a memo sent by Yellowstone County Attorney Scott Twito to the appellate division of the state Attorney General’s Office.
Prosecutors had sought a 20-year sentence with 10 years suspended. Baugh ordered Rambold to serve 15 years, with all but 31 days suspended and a one day credit for time already served.
The state has 20 days to appeal the sentence. Twito said he’s working with the appellate division to decide whether to take that step.
“It will be looked at and reviewed carefully before any action or any decision is made,” Twito said.
Baugh was first elected to the bench in 1984 and has been re-elected every six years since without an opponent. Originally from Texas, he is the son of legendary NFL quarterback Sammy Baugh of the Washington Redskins.
He has said he does not intend to resign, but “deserved to be chastised” for his comments about the victim.
The judge also said during Monday’s sentencing hearing that Moralez had as much control of the situation as Rambold.
He later told reporters that what he said was wrong, irrelevant to the case, demeaning of women and not reflective of his beliefs.
Baugh said the sentence was based on Rambold’s violation of an earlier deal he made with prosecutors, rather than the original crime. An addendum to the sentencing order filed Thursday further explained his rationale.
In 2010, after Moralez committed suicide, effectively scuttling the case, prosecutors agreed to defer Rambold’s prosecution for three years and dismiss the charges if he completed a sexual offender treatment program.
The case was revived in December after prosecutors learned Rambold, 54, was kicked out of that program for having unsupervised visits with minors who were family members and not telling counselors he was having a sexual relationship with a woman.
“There were violations of the treatment program, but they involved no violence, no inappropriate sexual conduct, and no new criminal activity,” Baugh wrote.
He added that the sentencing was also influenced by information that has not been made public: A 2013 psychological evaluation of the defendant and two interviews with Moralez, by law enforcement officers in 2008 and by Rambold’s attorney in 2009.
Asked about Thursday’s rally, the judge said only that the protesters were within their rights to peaceably assemble and air their grievances.
The rally packed the courthouse lawn with many people carrying signs such as “Justice for Cherice” and “Baugh Needs to Resign.”
Roughly 34,000 people have signed a petition for Baugh’s resignation. And protesters will seek to defeat Baugh if he seeks re-election in 2014, said organizer Sheena Rice.
Protester Pete Taylor, a 51-year-old head waiter at a local restaurant, sported a t-shirt on which he’d written “14 is 14.”
“What (Baugh) did and what he said was so out of step with Billings,” Taylor said. “The young girl was not young enough to make decisions for herself.”
Gov. Steve Bullock said in a statement that he had no authority over the judge’s decision and any complaints would be handled by the state Judicial Standards Commission.