BILLINGS, Mont. – Montana prosecutors are appealing a 30-day jail sentence handed down to a former high school teacher for raping a 14-year-old female student who later committed suicide.
In a controversial ruling in August, Judge Todd Baugh sentenced former Billings Senior High School teacher Stacey Dean Rambold, 54, to a mere month behind bars for having a sexual relationship with student Cherice Morales in 2008, a troubled 14-year-old at the time, CNN reports.
The judge has since tried to renege the light sentence, which he originally justified by claiming Morales was more mature than her age and “just as in control” of the relationship as her teacher. The state Supreme Court, however, ruled Baugh doesn’t have the legal authority to change the sentence, according to media reports.
The Montana Attorney General’s Office is now appealing the teacher’s sentence to the state Supreme Court on the grounds that it does not meet the state’s minimum two-year mandatory sentence. Prosecutors believe a 10-year prison sentence, which they originally called for at trial, is a more appropriate punishment, CNN reports.
“The circumstance of a 47-year-old teacher having sex with his 14-year-old student is precisely such a circumstance warranting a mandatory minimum sentence,” prosecutors wrote in their appeal, according to CNN.
Rambold, who was 47 when the crimes occurred, was charged with three counts of sexual intercourse without consent after he allegedly groomed Morales, then 14, for a sexual relationship. The former Billings Senior High School teacher had previously received warnings from school officials to avoid touching or being alone with female students, the Daily Mail reports.
Morales took her own life shortly before turning 17, and her mother blames her daughter’s suicide primarily on the sexual abuse. Rambold eventually admitted to having sex with Morales, and the victim’s mother won $96,000 in a wrongful death settlement with the school district.
As part of a plea bargain, prosecutors agreed to reduce the charges to one count of rape in exchange for Rambold completing a sex offender treatment program, but Rambold was dismissed from the program for having unsupervised visits with minors.
The teacher’s attorney argued the violation involved Rambold’s relatives, and told Baugh the former teacher entered a different program and is unlikely to re-offend, the Daily Mail reports.
“Judge Baugh, 66, seemed to agree. He said the former teacher’s violations at the sex offender treatment program were not enough to warrant prosecution,” according to the Daily Mail.
Many observers hope the state’s Supreme Court will agree to take a closer look at the case, and impose a sentence that better reflects the punishment Rambold clearly deserves.