A Montana judge apologizes for comments made when he sentenced a teacher to just 31 days in jail for raping a 14-year-old student who later committed suicide. KULR's Greg LaMotte reports.
Hundreds of protesters marched outside the county courthouse Thursday in Billings, Mont., demanding the resignation of a judge who sent a high school teacher to jail for just 30 days for having sex with a 14-year-old student — who later killed herself.
Carrying signs that read "RESIGN!" and "14 Is 14!" the 400 or so protesters endorsed state District Judge G. Todd Baugh's description of himself as a "blithering idiot" for having said in court this week that the victim was "older than her chronological age" and was "as much in control of the situation" as the man who assaulted her.
Baugh apologized Wednesday for the language he used but defended the sentence as appropriate in the case of Stacey Dean Rambold, 54.
"What I said was demeaning to all women, not what I believe in and irrelevant to the sentencing," he said, adding that he had no intention of resigning his elected post.
In a separate letter to The Billings Gazette, Baugh wrote: "In the Rambold sentencing, I made references to the victim's age and control. I'm not sure just what I was attempting to say, but it did not come out correct."
"I respected him a lot for the apology, but the fact that he made the statements, made follow-up statements and then apologized still makes me fell he revealed his nature," the protest organizer, Sheena Rice, told the Gazette in a video interview.
"I want to hold judges to a higher standard, and so we are still calling for his resignation," said Rice, a lobbyist for the Montana Organizing Project, a Billings social justice nonprofit.
More than 33,000 people had signed an online petition by Thursday afternoon demanding that Baugh, 71, resign "for the safety of our community, and the sake of sexual abuse victims whose confidence Baugh has lost."
Rambold, a technology teacher, was originally charged with three felony counts of sexual intercourse without consent in October 2008, when officials at Billings Senior High School first learned of the sexual relationship.
After the girl committed suicide in February 2010 — depriving prosecutors of their lead witness — prosecutors agreed to defer prosecution for three years and dismiss the charges if Rambold completed a sex offender treatment program.
But Rambold was kicked out of the program in November for violations that included missing meetings and having unsupervised visits with minors — his nieces and nephews. Prosecutors reopened the case, and Rambold pleaded guilty to a single felony count in April.
At Rambold's sentencing hearing Monday, prosecutors asked Baugh to send him away for 20 years, but the judge said he didn't believe the violations were serious enough to warrant such a long term. He said that while the girl was troubled, she was "as much in control of the situation" as Rambold was and was "older than her chronological age."
After his 30 days in jail, Rambold will be on probation for 15 years and must register as a sex offender — assuming prosecutors can't find grounds for an appeal, which they said they're actively looking for.