A judge in Billings, Mont. apologized publicly Wednesday for comments he made while giving Stacey Rambold, a former high school teacher, a 30-day sentence for the rape of a 14-year-old student who later took her own life. Many saw the sentence as too lenient, and Judge G. Todd Baugh’s comments as insensitive:
Baugh said he listened to recorded statements given by Morales before her death and believes that while she was a troubled youth, she was “as much in control of the situation” as Rambold.
The judge also said Morales was “older than her chronological age.”
The victim killed herself shortly before her 17th birthday, which made prosecuting Rambold more difficult. State attorneys agreed to dismiss charges if Rambold completed a treatment program for sex offenders. He was sentenced earlier this week after he failed to complete the program.
Baugh apologized for those comments, but defended the sentence:
“I don’t know what I was thinking or trying to say,” Baugh told The Billings Gazette. “It was just stupid and wrong.” . . .
Baugh said Wednesday morning he regrets the statements he made during the court hearing. He also submitted a letter to the editor for publication in The Gazette, stating he is “not sure just what I was attempting to say, but it did not come out correct.”
“What I said is demeaning of all women, not what I believe and irrelevant to the sentencing,” Baugh said in the letter. “My apologies to all my fellow citizens.”
Baugh said he plans to write an addendum to the court file this week explaining his reasons for the sentence he imposed more thoroughly.
Baugh told a reporter he believes the 30-day jail sentence was appropriate given the nature of the case. He likened the hearing Monday to a probation violation in which a defendant is re-sentenced for violating terms of a suspended sentence.
As he did Monday in court, Baugh said Wednesday he believes the violations of the deferred prosecution agreement between Rambold and state prosecutors were not serious enough to warrant a lengthy prison term.
A petition is circulating online, calling for Baugh to resign. Emily McCombs, the editor of xoJane, recalls her own sexual experiences with older men as a child and argues that Baugh’s decision was misguided:
Neglected at home and ostracized at school, I found comfort in the sexual attentions of older men. Unlike boys my own age, who cruelly taunted me, older men were nice to me. Unlike my emotionally distant father, older men paid attention to me. They were grooming me, but to that chubby, attention-starved teenage girl, their attentions felt a lot like love.
And so I created Prodigy chat rooms with names like “13yo girl home alone” and spent hours chatting and having phone sex with the men who would find me there. I “dated” men in their 20s and 30s that I met at the movie theater, online or hanging around local college town with my other underage girlfriends. I pursued these relationships with Lolita-like abandon. The terrifying thing is how few adult men ever said no.
I was not coerced. I consented to all these sexual encounters in the basest sense of the world. But I was making choices that I wasn’t emotionally equipped to make. Legally, that’s why statutory rape laws exist. Because like an intoxicated person, an underage person is not truly capable of informed consent. . . .
The fact is, a 14-year-old girl may be capable of agreeing to sex, but she doesn’t have the emotional and mental maturity to consent. I was 25 before I realized that every man I’d slept with as a teenager was a pedophile. It seemed to me that since I’d courted the attention, that I was fully culpable. What teenager believes she is not mentally or emotionally capable of full consent? I thought I was an adult, although when I look at the picture of myself from the time period above, I see a child.
The victim’s mother testified that the relationship was “a major factor” in her decision to take her own life, The Billings Gazette reported.
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