BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — A Montana judge apologized but said he had no plans to resign after his remarks about a 14-year-old rape victim — and the 30-day jail sentence he handed the perpetrator — sparked outrage.
District Judge G. Todd Baugh said Wednesday he “deserved to be chastised” for his comments about the victim, who he had said was “older than her chronological age” and had as much control of the situation as the Billings Senior High School teacher who was in a sexual relationship with her.
Protesters planned a Thursday rally outside the Yellowstone County Courthouse to demand that Baugh resign. Organizer Sheena Rice said she didn’t believe Baugh’s apology was sincere.
“It really points to a larger problem of victim blaming in rape cases across the country,” she said. “To see it happen in Billings, it’s time we as a community take a stand against victim blaming.”
Joining in the backlash against the judge was Montana’s Democratic governor, Steve Bullock, who said Baugh’s comments “made me angry.” But Bullock added that he has no authority over the judge and any complaints against him would be handled by the state Judicial Standards Commission.
Baugh, 71, apologized Wednesday for his comments about the victim in a letter to the editor to The Billings Gazette. He later told reporters that what he said was wrong, irrelevant to the case, demeaning of women and not reflective of his beliefs.
But Baugh said he stood by his Monday decision to sentence the former teacher, Stacey Rambold, to 15 years in prison, with all of but 31 days of that term suspended. He gave Rambold credit for one day already served.
Baugh said the sentence was based on Rambold’s violation of an earlier deal he made with prosecutors, rather than the original crime. He plans to file a further explanation for the sentence with the court.
“The public doesn’t exactly understand how that came about,” Baugh said, adding that it’s not unusual in his experience for people to disagree with criminal sentences.
Baugh was first elected to the bench in 1984 and has been re-elected every six years since then without an opponent. He said he has not decided whether to run again in 2014 but has no intention of resigning.
Rice said protesters will seek to defeat Baugh if he runs again.
Rambold was charged in October 2008 with three counts of sexual intercourse without consent after authorities alleged he had an ongoing sexual relationship with Cherice Moralez, starting the previous year when she was 14. Moralez killed herself in 2010 at age 16 while the case was pending.
Yellowstone County officials 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 the program for having unsupervised visits with minors who were family members and not telling counselors he was having a sexual relationship with a woman.
“She wasn’t even old enough to get a driver’s license. But Judge Baugh, who never met our daughter, justified the paltry sentence saying she was older than her chronological age,” the girl’s mother, Auleia Hanlon, said in a statement to the Gazette after Monday’s sentencing. “I guess somehow it makes a rape more acceptable if you blame the victim, even if she was only 14.”
Under state law, children younger than 16 cannot consent to sexual intercourse.
Defense attorney Jay Lansing said Rambold has continued his treatment with a different program and that an evaluation found him at low risk to re-offend. Prosecutors had recommended a 10-year prison term.
“My thought was, given the relatively minor violations in the sex offender treatment program, it didn’t seem appropriate to put him in jail, put him in prison” for a longer time, Baugh said.
Yellowstone County Attorney Scott Twito told the Gazette on Wednesday his office was reviewing the sentence to make sure it conforms to the facts of the case and the law.
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