Montana judge's remarks about raped teen prompt outrage

Media caption,
District Judge G. Todd Baugh: "I'm not sure just what I was attempting to say at that point, but it didn't come out correctly"

A Montana judge who said a 14-year-old rape victim was "as much in control of the situation" as the man who assaulted her has come under pressure to resign.

Montana Judge Todd Baugh also said the girl was "older than her chronological age", as he handed the teacher who assaulted her a month in prison.

The mother of the victim, who took her own life three years ago while the case was pending, is furious.

Judge Baugh, 71, has since said his comments were "stupid and wrong".

Dismissing his apology, hundreds of protesters gathered in front of the Yellowstone County Courthouse in Billings on Thursday, carrying signs reading Justice for Cherice and 14 is 14.

A petition seeking his resignation is also being circulated.

Judicial review

Image caption,
Defence lawyers said Stacey Rambold had lost his career and his marriage

In 2008, Stacey Rambold, now 54, was charged with three counts of sexual intercourse with a girl beneath the age of consent.

His victim, Cherice Moralez, was a student at the high school where he taught in the city of Billings, Montana.

Her mother blames her daughter's 2010 suicide on the distress caused by the assault and its aftermath.

Prosecutors had asked Judge Baugh to sentence Rambold to 20 years in prison, but defence lawyers said their client had suffered enough.

On Monday, Judge Baugh sentenced Rambold to 15 years, with all but 31 days of the term suspended. He gave him credit for one day already spent in jail.

During the hearing, Judge Baugh made his controversial comments about the victim.

The girl's mother, Auleia Hanlon, said in a written statement afterwards, released through her lawyer: "She wasn't even old enough to get a driver's licence.

"But Judge Baugh, who never met our daughter, justified the paltry sentence saying she was older than her chronological age.

"I guess somehow it makes a rape more acceptable if you blame the victim, even if she was only 14."

Montana's attorney general is reportedly reviewing the case.

Yellowstone County Prosecutor Scott Twito said on Thursday that a legal review of the case suggests Rambold should have received at least two years in prison, but a decision on an appeal has not been made.

'Covering his butt'

With anger mounting, Judge Baugh told the Billings Gazette newspaper on Wednesday that he was sorry.

"I don't know what I was thinking or trying to say," he said. "It was just stupid and wrong.

"What I said is demeaning of all women, not what I believe and irrelevant to the sentencing. My apologies to all my fellow citizens."

On Thursday, Ms Hanlon told the Associated Press news agency at the rally the judge was "just covering his butt" with the apology, and said it was "irrelevant" because he had stood by the 30-day sentence.

Rambold could have escaped a jail term altogether under a deal reached with prosecutors following Moralez's death.

They offered to ultimately drop charges if he completed a sexual offender treatment programme.

But proceedings against him were reactivated in December after it emerged he had had unsupervised visits with minors who were family members.

He had also failed to inform counsellors about his relationship with a woman.

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