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Montana Supreme Court blocks new sentencing for teacher in sex with student

Matt Brown / AP

Montana District Judge G. Todd Baugh read a statement Aug. 28 apologizing for remarks he made about a 14-year-old girl sexually assaulted by a teacher in Billings.

The bizarre case of the Montana teacher sentenced to 30 days in jail for having sex with a 14-year-old student took another U-turn Friday when the state Supreme Court blocked a judge from revising the sentence.

The teacher, Stacey Dean Rambold, 54, had been scheduled to be resentenced Friday afternoon, just three days after state District Judge G. Todd Baugh said he had misread state law and said the correct punishment should be a prison stay of two years.

Less than an hour before the hearing, the Supreme Court stepped in and ordered Baugh to halt the hearing after prosecutors filed an emergency petition arguing that only the high court itself can decide the matter. 

Baugh canceled the hearing later Friday afternoon, saying the whole mess "could have been avoided altogether if I'd been more alert or if the state had pointed out to the court the correct mandatory minimum," NBC station KULR of Billings reported.

The court said the next step would be an appeal of Baugh's sentence that state Attorney General Tim Fox filed Wednesday. At the original sentencing hearing last week, prosecutors sought to send Rambold away for at least 10 years, and they have said they’re concerned Baugh would insist on only two years.

Yellowstone County Attorney Scott Twito told KULR on Wednesday that a judge's oral sentence is deemed final. Twito agreed that the sentence was illegal, but he said nebause that's a matter for a higher court to decide, it was outside of the law for Baugh to schedule a do-over.

Meanwhile, Rambold is sitting on the sidelines — in jail — waiting to find out whether he will serve a few more days, two years, 10 years or even more in prison.

Baugh created a national uproar Aug. 26 when he sentenced Rambold to 15 years in prison — with all but a month suspended — for having sex with a 14-year-old girl who later committed suicide. 

Compounding matters, Baugh, 71, explained the sentence by saying in open court that the victim was "older than her chronological age" and was "as much in control of the situation" as Rambold was.

Baugh initially apologized for his words — calling himself a "blithering idiot" — but he stood behind the sentence.

Then, after a week of protests that included a national petition demanding his resignation, he reversed course on Tuesday and scheduled a new sentencing hearing for Friday.

Baugh said he'd overlooked a state law that now led him to believe he'd suspended too much of Rambold's sentence. Rambold should have faced, at minimum, two years behind bars, he said, so the original term "would be an illegal sentence."

Elizabeth Chuck of NBC News contributed to this report.


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