A Montana judge apologized for saying that a teenager, Cherice Moralez, who was 14 when she was raped, was "older than her chronological age" and as much in control of the situation as the perpetrator, a teacher.
District Judge G. Todd Baugh said Wednesday he "deserved to be chastised" for his comments about the victim, which he said he made as he was struggling to explain the 30-day sentence he handed the perpetrator.
The teacher, Stacey Rambold, who is 54, was charged in October 2008 with three counts of sexual intercourse without consent after authorities alleged he had an ongoing sexual relationship with Moralez, starting the previous year when she was 14.
Moralez killed herself in 2010 at age 16 while the case was pending and hence her name is made public. Otherwise, being a minor and a rape victim, her identity would not usually be revealed.
Baugh, however, said he had no plans to resign after his remarks and the 30-day sentence sparked outrage.
Baugh said he stood by his decision Monday to sentence Rambold to 15 years in prison, with all but 31 days of that term suspended. He gave Rambold credit for one day already served.
Baugh, 71, wrote an apology Wednesday in a letter to the editor to The Billings Gazette. He said his comments were demeaning of all women and not reflective of his beliefs.
The judge later told reporters he was "fumbling around" in court trying to explain his sentence and "made some really stupid remarks."
She wasn't even old enough to get a driver's license. 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.
"I don't know how to pass that off. I'm saying I'm sorry and it's not who I am," Baugh said. "I deserve to be chastised. I apologize for that."
Protesters planned a Thursday afternoon rally outside the Yellowstone County Courthouse to demand that Baugh resign. Organizer Sheena Rice said it's important for the community to show it is not going to stand for victim blaming.
"I'm glad he apologized, but he should have known better as a judge," Rice said. "The fact that he said it makes me think he still believes it."
If Baugh doesn't resign, protesters will try to defeat him in an election in 2014, Rice said.
Baugh was first elected to the bench in 1984 and has been re-elected every six years since then without an opponent. He said he has not decided whether to run again in 2014.
Rambold was charged in October 2008 with three counts of sexual intercourse without consent after authorities alleged he had an ongoing sexual relationship with Cherice Moralez, starting the previous year when she was 14. Moralez killed herself in 2010 at age 16 while the case was pending.
Yellowstone County officials agreed to defer Rambold's prosecution for three years and dismiss the charges if he completed a sexual offender treatment program. The case was revived in December after prosecutors learned Rambold was kicked out of the program for having unsupervised visits with minors who were family members and not telling counselors he was having a sexual relationship with a woman.
"She wasn't even old enough to get a driver's license. But Judge Baugh, who never met our daughter, justified the paltry sentence saying she was older than her chronological age," the girl's mother, Auleia Hanlon, said in a statement to the Gazette after Monday's sentencing. "I guess somehow it makes a rape more acceptable if you blame the victim, even if she was only 14."
Under state law, children younger than 16 cannot consent to sexual intercourse.
Defense attorney Jay Lansing said Rambold has continued his treatment with a different program and that an evaluation found him at low risk to re-offend. Prosecutors had recommended a 10-year prison term.
"My thought was, given the relatively minor violations in the sex offender treatment program, it didn't seem appropriate to put him in jail, put him in prison" for a longer time, Baugh said. "It didn't seem to me that the violations were such that the state should be able to back out of their agreement."
Yellowstone County Attorney Scott Twito told the Gazette on Wednesday his office was reviewing the sentence to make sure it conforms to the facts of the case and the law.
Based on reporting by The Associated Press.