Montana teacher gets 30 days in jail in rape of 14-year-old student who later kills herself
(CNN) — A mother in Montana is outraged that a high school teacher who admitted raping her 14-year-old daughter received only a month in prison, while her daughter took her own life.
“I think this sentence is a joke, a travesty,” the mother, Auliea Hanlon, told CNN on Tuesday night, a day after the sentencing.
“People will lose faith in our justice system. I have.”
Hanlon said she was particularly upset that the sentencing judge, G. Todd Baugh, said her daughter “seemed older than her chronological age” and was “as much in control of the situation” as the teacher.
Baugh later acknowledged to CNN that “that was not the best choice of words.”
The case began in 2008 when the teen was a student at Billings Senior High School and Stacey Dean Rambold was a teacher. She was 14 at the time; he was 49.
Hanlon claims Rambold’s “pre-sexual grooming” of her daughter led to the pair having sex.
School officials learned of the relationship, and Rambold resigned.
Later that year, authorities charged Rambold with three counts of sexual intercourse without consent.
“It’s not probably the kind of rape most people think about,” Baugh said. “It was not a violent, forcible, beat-the-victim rape, like you see in the movies. But it was nonetheless a rape. It was a troubled young girl, and he was a teacher. And this should not have occurred.”
As the case wound its way through the legal system, the girl committed suicide. She was a few weeks shy of her 17th birthday.
“As a result of the sexual assault and its aftermath, (the teen) experienced severe emotional distress, humiliation and embarrassment and fell into irreversible depression that tragically led to her taking her own life on February 6, 2010,” Hanlon said in a complaint filed against Rambold.
Hanlon told CNN the relationship was to blame for her daughter’s death.
“Well it definitely had something to do with it,” she said. “A teenager’s whole life is about school and their friends, and he turned everyone against her.”
With the teen’s death, the prosecution entered into what is known as a “deferred prosecution agreement” with Rambold.
This meant that all charges against Rambold would be dismissed if he completed a sex offender treatment program and met other requirements. One of them was to have no contact with children.
Rambold admitted to one of the rape charges.
But Rambold fell short of the agreement.
“He had some contacts with nieces and nephews in a family setting and other adults were present,” Baugh said.
He also had relationships with women that he didn’t tell his counselors about.
“That is a violation from his deferred prosecution so he was dropped from the plan.”
As a result, the case was revived in December 2012.
At a hearing Monday, prosecutors asked the judge to send Rambold away for 20 years.
The defense argued that Rambold has suffered enough. His lawyers said he lost his career and his marriage and has the “scarlet letter of the Internet” due to the publicity surrounding the case, the Billings Gazette reported.
Baugh ruled that Rambold’s infractions weren’t serious enough.
“He made some violations of his treatment program,” he said. “They were more technical and not the kind you would send someone to prison for.”
He sentenced Rambold to 15 years in prison. Then, he suspended all but 31 days of the sentence, according to the Yellowstone County District Court.
In addition, the judge gave him credit for one day he spent in jail.
Incredulous at what had happened, Hanlon shouted at the court, “You people suck.”
“She wasn’t even old enough to get a driver’s license,” Hanlon said in a statement released by her attorney. “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.”
Baugh defended his ruling. He told CNN he believes Rambold is “treatable” and a “low risk to re-offend.”
Two videotaped interviews with the teenager — one with the police department and one with the defense attorney — were played in court, he said.
“She seemed older than her chronological age,” he said. “Basically what we had was a troubled young girl.”
He added, “I simply did not have the evidence to conclude that her taking her life was because of her sexual offense by Mr. Rambold.”
The Montana Organization of Women started a petition calling on the judge to resign.
“It’s outlandish in a way that I cannot describe,” HLN’s Drew Pinsky told CNN’s “Erin Burnett OutFront.” “It’ is the most outlandish thing that I’ve ever heard of.”