BILLINGS — A Montana teacher was sentenced Friday to 10 years in custody in a student rape case that led to the censure of a judge who partially blamed the victim.
Stacey Dean Rambold, 55, was resentenced by Judge Randal Spaulding exactly a year after he completed an initial one-month prison term for the crime.
Five more years included in the new sentence were suspended.
Rambold appeared to grimace as the sentence was read. He was then handcuffed and led away by deputies, pausing briefly to exchange words with family as he exited the courtroom.
Rambold pleaded guilty to a single count of sexual intercourse without consent in the 2007 incident involving 14-year-old Cherice Moralez, a freshman in his Billings Senior High School business class. She committed suicide in 2010.
The state Supreme Court overturned Rambold’s initial sentence, citing in part comments from Judge G. Todd Baugh who suggested the victim shared responsibility.
Baugh was censured and suspended for 31 days. He’s stepping down when his terms ends in January.
During the sentencing hearing Friday, Yellowstone County Attorney Scott Twito asked Judge Spaulding to reject defense attempts to make the victim’s conduct in the case a factor in Rambold’s sentencing.
That included references by the defendant’s attorney to video-taped interviews of the victim recorded by law enforcement prior to her death. Those recordings, which have never been made public, were cited by Baugh during his sentencing.
Under state law, children under 16 cannot consent to sexual intercourse.
“The last thing we want to do is sit here in the criminal justice system and say, ‘What is the age?’ It doesn’t matter. Fourteen is way too young,” Twito said. “There has to be punishment….Punishment means prison.”
Rambold’s attorney, Jay Lansing, responded that there was no statute preventing the court from considering Moralez’s conduct. He pointed out that similar objections were never raised by prosecutors during Rambold’s first sentence, and said they were seeking a “do-over,” which Lansing asserted was not allowed under state and federal law.
In a letter to the court, Rambold sought forgiveness and lamented the international publicity his case has generated.
“No one can really appreciate and understand what it feels like to have so many people actually hate you and be disgusted by you,” Rambold wrote. “I do not mention this for the sake of sympathy, but it has been hard.”
Twito asked the court to impose a 10-year prison sentence with another 10 years suspended. That is the same sentence prosecutors sought last year when the case was before Baugh, who instead adopted the much more lenient term suggested by Rambold’s defense attorney.
Without Moralez, their primary witness, prosecutors struck a deal with Rambold that initially allowed him to avoid prison altogether.
Rambold, however, violated that agreement by having unauthorized visits with relatives’ children and entering into a relationship with an adult woman without telling his counselor. As a result, the case was revived and Rambold pleaded guilty last year to the count of sexual intercourse without consent.
During the first sentencing, Baugh suggested the victim had as much control over her rape as the defendant and said she “appeared older than her chronological age.” He gave Rambold a 15-year term with all but one month suspended.
That triggered an appeal from prosecutors and ultimately resulted in the case being reassigned to Spaulding.
Baugh’s comments and the lenient sentence he handed down landed him before the state Supreme Court for disciplinary proceedings, which resulted in a 30-day suspension from the bench and a public censure for his misconduct in the case.
In a sentencing memorandum filed this week, Twito wrote that a tough sentence for Rambold was warranted given his position of authority over Moralez.
“His position of trust as a high school teacher, abuse of that position, and violations against the victim overshadows all mitigating circumstances,” Twito wrote.
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