Commentary by Susan Brinkmann, OCDS
Montana residents are determined to toss a District Court judge off the bench after he sentenced a child rapist, whose victim killed herself, to just 30 days behind bars.
The Daily Mail is reporting that District Judge Todd Baugh has enraged the community of Billings, Montana by giving such a light sentence to 54 year-old Stacey Dean Rambold who was found guilty of raping Cherice “Cherry” Moralez who was 14 years-old at the time. Even though prosecutors asked for 20 years for Rambold, Judge Baugh sided with defense attorneys who said Rambold “suffered enough” in losing his job, his wife, his teaching license and his house.
Moralez’ suffering was considerably worse, however. When news broke of her charges against the teacher, she was bullied and harassed by fellow students at school. Her life slowly fell apart and just days before her 17th birthday, she climbed into her mother’s bed and shot herself to death. Although the rape was not the sole reason for her actions, it was certainly a contributing factor.
Even more troubling is the fact that the school district knew Rambold was a predator and issued a warning over inappropriate behavior four years earlier but left him in charge of minors.
As if this story could not get any worse, the community was further infuriated by comments made by the judge when he handed down the sentence. He claimed that Moralez was “as much in control of the situation” as Rambold and that she was “older than her chronological age.”
The comments sparked immediate outrage and in his haste to cool the public angst, he made matters worse by trying to clarify what he meant in an interview with The Billings Gazette: “Obviously a 14-year-old can’t consent. I think the people have in mind that this was some violent, forcible, horrible rape. It was horrible enough as it is just given her age, but it wasn’t this forcible beat-up thing.”
Moralez’ mother, Auliea Hanlon, was understandably outraged: “He is the highest authority of law and he pretty much just said, ‘Oh it’s okay. She went along with it. So it’s okay.’ And it’s not okay. This guy was 48. She was 14. You think you’re all grown up at 14 but you’re not. She wasn’t. She needed protecting and looking after.”
Instead, her family says Moralez was left vulnerable to a known sexual predator who was permitted to continue to work around children.
The people of Montana are determined to have the final word in this case. A petition drive to oust him from the bench garnered 10,000 signatures in 24 hours and a protest was held yesterday in front of the town courthouse.
If that doesn’t work, Baugh, who is serving his sixth term, is facing re-election in 2014. Angry residents intend to make their voices heard via the voting booth.
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