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Montana ex-teacher freed after month in jail for raping student

By Laura Zuckerman

(Reuters) - A former high school teacher in Montana was released from prison on Thursday after serving just one month for the rape of a 14-year-old student who later killed herself, a corrections department spokeswoman said.

The surprisingly lenient term given Stacey Rambold, 54, for the 2007 rape of Cherice Moralez drew a firestorm of public outrage. The state attorney general has appealed for a longer sentence to the Montana Supreme Court, and several groups are seeking the ouster of District Judge G. Todd Baugh, who handed down the sentence.

The outcry from women's groups was further inflamed by remarks Baugh made during a sentencing hearing. The judge said the teenager seemed older than her years and was "probably as much in control of the situation" as her teacher.

Rambold was released from Montana State Prison at about 10 a.m. local time, said Judy Beck, spokeswoman for the state Corrections Department. He has been registered as a sex offender and must check in with a probation officer in Billings.

Rambold was charged with three counts of sexual intercourse without consent, the Montana equivalent of rape, in 2008. Billings Senior High School, where Moralez was a student in his technology class, suspended him. He later surrendered his teaching certificate.

Moralez killed herself in 2010 before the case could go to trial, crippling a prosecution that hinged on her testimony. In a plea deal, Rambold admitted to a single count of rape, while prosecutors postponed the case and agreed to dismiss it if he completed sex offender treatment.

Prosecutors reinstated the case after Rambold was dismissed from a treatment center for violating its rules. He pleaded guilty to rape in April, and last month Baugh sentenced him to 15 years in prison, with all but 31 days suspended.

Judge Baugh has apologized for his remarks about Moralez, but his critics still staged protests outside his offices last month and have called for his removal.

'IT'S ABOUT ATTITUDES TOWARD RAPE'

The Montana attorney general has appealed the sentence as far below the two-year minimum penalty for the crime. If the court overturns the sentence, Rambold could be sent back to prison to serve a longer term.

"What's going on here is not just about Rambold, not just about Baugh, not just about Montana. It's about attitudes toward rape and attitudes toward women in our judiciary," said Marian Bradley, president of the state chapter of the National Organization for Women.

In the meantime, Rambold will remain on probation until 2028, subject to a list of restrictions, said Chris Evans, probation and parole supervisor for the Corrections Department.

Rambold is required to re-enter sex offender treatment and is barred from any contact with individuals under the age of 18 unless they are accompanied by an adult aware of his conviction and approved by his probation officer, Evans said.

He also is banned from parks, shopping malls, schools, movie theaters and other places where children are likely to gather unless he gains permission from his probation officer and is accompanied by an adult chaperone, according to legal documents.

He is prohibited from accessing the Internet without prior approval, or from taking any job or providing any service that involves supervision of children.

On Tuesday, the Montana NOW chapter and others sought Judge Baugh's ouster in a complaint to the Montana Judicial Standards Commission. They claimed Baugh violated legal and judicial codes by showing age, gender, socioeconomic and racial bias against the victim, who was Hispanic and lower income, and a bias favoring the rapist, a white, middle-aged, middle-class man.

They also said Baugh violated a state rule aimed at promoting confidence in the judiciary by blaming the victim.

Neither Baugh nor his lawyer could immediately be reached for comment.

(Reporting by Laura Zuckerman; Editing by Cynthia Johnston, Steve Gorman and David Gregorio)

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