Attorney General Tim Fox is asking the Montana Supreme Court to prohibit a District Judge from holding a resentencing hearing this Friday on the 30-day prison sentence a former Billings teacher received for raping his 14-year-old student.
The case has prompted widespread criticism from around the country.
District Judge G. Todd Baugh handed down the light sentence in late August, but has now scheduled a resentencing because he says it appears the original sentence may have been illegal. Attorney General Tim Fox said that may be the case—but the judge is not going about fixing it in the right way.
“Judge Baugh doesn’t now have the ability, legally, to reconsider the judgment. But there is an avenue to do that and that’s what we have done at the Department of Justice,” Fox said.
The Attorney General’s office has filed an appeal to the Montana Supreme Court.
Fox said he does believe 30 days in prison for teacher Stacey Rambold is in fact an illegal sentence, below the mandatory minimum sentence of two years.
Records show teacher Stacey Rambold was in his late 40s in when he began having sex with his 14-year-old student, Cherice Moralez. Moralez told her youth counselor about the relationship in 2008, who then notified authorities. The fallout from the relationship led her to commit suicide in 2010, before the case went to trial.
Yellowstone County Attorney Scott Twito didn’t work for the county then, but said prosecutors at the time were left in a bind. Moralez was the complaining witness—she was the primary evidence. So the prosecution took a different route.
"Obviously, it's a tough decision to make,” Twito said, “But when you lose evidence you sometimes have to try to figure out what's the best option for your community. I think that was the objective reasoning behind entering into that agreement back in 2010."
The agreement he’s talking about is called a pre-trial diversion. In it, the prosecution told Rambold they would not pursue his case if he followed a sex-offender treatment program for a few years. If he completed that, he would avoid prison. But, there was a caveat, that he would admit to one of the crimes that had been charged against him
“That admission could be used against him if he violated the contractual agreement,” Twito said.
Rambold did violate the agreement. The former teacher was kicked completely out of his treatment program for violations like making unauthorized visits to family members’ kids and not reporting a sexual relationship he did have with a woman.
“And now, with that violation we reinstituted prosecution,” Twito said.
Except this time, the prosecution was able to use Rambold’s own admission to the rapes as evidence.
Rambold chose to plead guilty, which leads us to Judge G. Todd Baugh’s sentence of 15 years with all but 30 days suspended. Twito said that is not what the prosecution asked for.
"We did advocate for a sentence of 20 years with 10 suspended, which we thought was a more appropriate recommendation," he said.
Baugh’s month-long sentence is part of what has prompted a national outcry over this case, but it’s also how Baugh approached it. The judge said the 14-year-old Moralez was older than her chronological age and had as much control regarding the sexual relationship with Rambold as Rambold did. He later apologized for the remarks but that did not stop hundreds protesting outside the Yellowstone County Courthouse asking for his resignation.
More than 55 thousand people from across the country have signed an online petition to that effect.
Judge Baugh now says state law mandates a two year minimum sentence for Rambold’s crimes.