A former high school teacher in Montana sentenced to 30 days in jail for raping a 14-year-old student will return to court on Friday after the sentencing judge admitted he may have made a mistake and imposed an illegal term.
Yellowstone County District Court Judge G. Todd Baugh said Tuesday that state law appears to require a two-year mandatory minimum sentence for Stacey Rambold of Billings, who was convicted on charges of sexually assaulting Cherice Moralez, who later killed herself.
Baugh last week sentenced 54-year-old Rambold to 15 years in jail with all but 31 days suspended. He was given credit for one day already served behind bars.
The lenient sentence, and Baugh’s controversial remarks that Moralez was partly at fault for the rape, sparked protests and a nationwide petition calling for his resignation.
“In this court’s opinion, imposing a sentence which suspends more than the mandatory minimum would be an illegal sentence,” Baugh said in an order filed Tuesday.
Yellowstone County Attorney Scott Twito, who last week said he was considering appealing the 30-day sentence, will attend Friday's hearing.
“The state will review the issue and we will be prepared to be in court on Friday,” Twito was quoted as saying.
Before sentencing Rambold on Aug. 26, Baugh said Moralez was “probably as much in control of the situation” as Rambold and that the teenager seemed older then her age – sparking a firestorm of criticism.
The judge apologized for his remarks the following day.
Rambold was charged in 2008 with three counts of sexual intercourse without consent, the Montana equivalent of rape.
Moralez killed herself in 2010 while the case was pending. Prosecutors struck a deal with Rambold in which he admitted to a single rape charge to be dismissed in three years if he successfully completed sex offender treatment.
But the case was reactivated in December after they learned that Rambold had been kicked out of the program for numerous violations, including unsupervised visits with minors.