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Montana teacher’s rape sentence appealed

FILE - This undated file phoshows District Judge G. Todd Baugh presiding hearing GreFalls Mont. A Montanjudge has ordered new

FILE - This undated file photo shows District Judge G. Todd Baugh presiding at a hearing in Great Falls, Mont. A Montana judge has ordered a new sentencing hearing for a former teacher who received just 30 days in prison for raping a student who later killed herself. District Judge G. Todd Baugh said in Tuesday's order that a two-year mandatory minimum prison term for Rambold appears to be required under state law. Baugh has faced widespread condemnation from women's rights activists, elected officials and others for saying Rambold's 14-year-old victim was "older than her chronological age." He later apologized. Prosecutors had been considering an appeal, citing the two-year minimum requirement. But in a strange twist, Yellowstone County Attorney Scott Twito says Baugh may lack authority to impose such a sentence at this point. That's because state law says an illegal sentence must be handled through an appeal. (AP Photo/Billings Gazette, Larry Mayer, File)

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BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — State prosecutors said Wednesday they are appealing as “illegal” a 30-day sentence given by a Montana judge to a former teacher for raping a student who later killed herself.

The announcement came after District Judge G. Todd Baugh received widespread condemnation for the lenient sentence and his comments that the victim was “older than her chronological age.”

Montana Attorney General spokesman John Barnes said Baugh will be asked to cancel a Friday resentencing hearing in the case pending a decision on the appeal.

Defendant Stacey Rambold, 54, received 15 years in prison with all but a month suspended for his months-long relationship with a student at Billings Senior High School in 2007. Victim Cherice Moralez killed herself before the case went to trial.

Yellowstone County Attorney Scott Twito has said state law appears to mandate a two-year minimum prison term for Rambold.

Baugh echoed that determination Tuesday in setting the resentencing hearing for Rambold. “In the Court’s opinion, imposing a sentence which suspends more than the mandatory minimum would be an illegal sentence,” Baugh wrote.

But that did little to sway the judge’s critics, including hundreds of protesters who rallied outside the Yellowstone County Courthouse last week to call for his resignation.

“I wish the judge had been thoughtful enough to get it right the first time,” said Eran Thompson with Not in Our Town, a Billings group that promotes diversity and works against hate crimes.

Baugh has faced widespread condemnation from activists, elected officials and others for the sentence and for saying Moralez was “older than her chronological age” and asserting that she had some control over her relationship with Rambold.

The judge later apologized for his comments. Those who have called for him to resign said an apology is not enough.

Moralez killed herself before Rambold’s case came to trial. That left prosecutors without their main witness and led them to strike a deal with Rambold that allowed him to avoid prison until he violated the terms of his court-ordered release.

Court records show the sentence Baugh handed down was in line with what Rambold had requested.

Prosecutors, who sought 20 years prison with 10 years suspended for Rambold, have described his actions with Moralez as the “ultimate violation” of the trust she had placed in him as a teacher.

Court documents show that Rambold and Moralez had three sexual encounters — once at school, once in his car and a third time at his home. The relationship was still going on when authorities were notified in 2008 after Moralez confided in her youth counselor, the court documents state.

“Law enforcement intervention ended the relationship, not the defendant,” prosecutors said in an Aug. 23 sentencing memorandum.

Rambold has begun serving his monthlong term at the state prison in Deer Lodge.

Baugh, 71, was first elected to the bench in 1984 and has been re-elected every six years since without an opponent. He’s up for re-election in 2014.

Baugh said in response to the criticism that followed his remarks that Rambold’s sentence was based on the defendant’s violation of an earlier deal he made with prosecutors, rather than the original crime. He also claimed that his remarks about Moralez were “irrelevant” and did not factor into his sentence.

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