Protesters are outraged and have asked a Montana judge to resign after he said that a 14-year-old who was repeatedly raped by her teacher was "older than her chronological age" and had as much control of the situation as the middle-aged rapist.
The judge later said his comments were wrong, irrelevant to the case, demeaning of women and not reflective of his beliefs.
The Billings, Mont.-based Judge G. Todd Baugh, 71, sentenced the offender, Stacey Rambold, to a month in jail on Monday. He clarified in an addendum to the sentencing order that his decision was not based on Rambold's original crime, but on his violation of a sex offender treatment program years later.
'I guess somehow it makes a rape more acceptable if you blame the victim, even if she was only 14.'—Rape victim's mother, Auleia Hanlon
Faced with backlash over his comments Baugh apologized in a letter to the editor to The Billings Gazette. He also told local reporters he had "made some really stupid remarks."
"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."
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, and the girl's mother, Auleia Hanlon, said her daughter's relationship with Rambold was a "major factor."
Hanlon said in a statement to the Gazette that she no longer believes in justice after the sentence Baugh gave Rambold and the judge's remarks about her daughter.
"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," Hanlon said. "I guess somehow it makes a rape more acceptable if you blame the victim, even if she was only 14."
In 2010, after Moralez committed suicide, effectively scuttling the case, prosecutors had 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 after prosecutors learned Rambold, 54, was kicked out of that program for having unsupervised visits with minors who were family members and not telling counselors he was having a sexual relationship with a woman.
A review determined that if Baugh had applied the proper section of state law, the defendant would have received a minimum of two years in prison, according to a memo sent by Yellowstone County attorney Scott Twito to the appellate division of the state attorney general's office.
Prosecutors had sought a 20-year sentence with 10 years suspended. Baugh ordered Rambold to serve 15 years, with all but 31 days suspended and a one-day credit for time already served.
"There were violations of the treatment program, but they involved no violence, no inappropriate sexual conduct, and no new criminal activity," Baugh wrote.
He added that the sentencing was also influenced by information that has not been made public: A 2013 psychological evaluation of the defendant and two interviews with Moralez, by law enforcement officers in 2008 and by Rambold's attorney in 2009.
Roughly 34,000 people have signed a petition for Baugh's resignation. And protesters will try to defeat Baugh if he seeks re-election in 2014, said organizer Sheena Rice.