The Rape of Cherise Morales. Was Justice Done? Or Was Justice Denied?

stacey Rambold

This week, Montana Judge G. Todd Baugh sentenced a 54-year-old teacher, Stacey Rambold, (above) to 31 days in jail, after he admitted to having sex with a 14-year-old student. The judge came under fire for both his lenient sentence, and his subsequent remarks about the victim. Judge Baugh has since apologized for his statement, but has defended his decision by releasing a sentencing report, in which he says he is privy to confidential information we are not.

I admit I am intrigued. The judge claims he is privy to information from two victim’s interviews, one with a police detective and the other with the defendant’s attorney. The implication is, if we only knew what was said by the victim, we would understand why what seems like such a paltry sentence was appropriate for what seems like such a disgusting crime.

Victim interviews? Is the judge saying he made some kind of an evaluation of the child? What does a judge need to know about her besides she was fourteen and he was her middle-aged teacher? This wasn’t a case of an 18-year-old senior caught with his freshman girlfriend, the kind of case that is so often referenced to make “statutory rape” appear to be less than a serious crime. (And I wish police would stop using the law to charge kids in those circumstances for just that reason.) The teacher/student betrayal alone should earn him substantial prison time, shouldn’t it?

As you read about this case, I want you to play detective. See if you can think of anything, anything at all, that could have persuaded the judge to sentence Stacey Rambold to 30 years, and then suspend all but 31 days of it. And remember, he confessed to betraying the student/teacher bond, by having sex with a 14-year-old student.

cherise Morales TumblrThe facts of the case according to the Billings Gazette:

  • In 2008, fourteen-year-old Cherise Morales, (right) a freshman at Billings Senior  High School, had a sexual relationship with 49-year-old Stacey Rambold, a teacher at the school.
  • The sex was consensual, but the age of consent in Montana is 16 years, so the act is considered rape under the law.
  • In April  2008, Cherise confided the relationship to a church leader, who reported it to the school, and to police.
  • In October 2008, Rambold was charged with three counts of sex without consent.
  • In 2010, while the case was pending, Cherise Morales committed suicide.
  • stacey ramboldWithout a Cherise, prosecutors were uncertain they could get a conviction at trial. In July 2010, they agreed to defer prosecution for three years; if Rambold completed a sex offender course and stayed away from children, the charges would be dropped.
  • In return for the prosecutor’s consideration, Stacey Rambold (right) admitted to one count of sex without consent, which he knew was admissible if the case was ever revived, and he agreed to register as a sex offender.
  • The school district reached a wrongful death settlement with Cherise’s family, who received $91,000 because the school had not adequately supervised Rambold.
  • In December 2012, prosecutors learned that Rambold had been expelled from the sex offender program, and revived the prosecution. They asked Judge G. Auliea Hanlon Billing gazetteTodd Baugh to sentence Rambold to 20 years, with 1o of those years suspended.
  • Rambold’s attorney argued that his client had lost his wife, his job, and his reputation, and had been punished enough.
  • Cherise Morales’ mother Auliea Hanlon, (right) told Judge Baugh the relationship with her teacher had been a “major factor” in her daughter’s suicide, and asked him to sentence Rambold to prison.
  • Judge Baugh decided Rambold’s infractions of his plea agreement were not serious enough to warrant a lengthy prison term, and noted he had enrolled in another sex abuse program. The judge said he had listened to tapes of Cherise Morales and found her to be “older than her chronological age” and “as much in control of the situation” as Rambold.
  • Judge Baugh sentenced Stacey Rambold to 30 years, with all but 31 days suspended, and gave him credit for the one day he had G Tood Baugh1spent in jail after his arrest. 
  • After a public outcry, Judge Baugh (right) apologized for his characterization of the victim, but released a sentencing report, defending his decision.

There are two very different ways of interpreting the facts of this case, so to be fair, I will attempt to give you both of them. Give each side what weight you will. Then answer the question, was justice done? Or denied?

If you are a male Republican, the rape of 14-year old Cherice Morales goes like this:

An emotionally unstable young woman, a student at Billings Senior High School, flirted with Stacey Rambold, a 49-year-old teacher at the school. In a weak moment he now regrets, he gave in to her advances and had sex with her. Although the law in Montana says a woman cannot legally consent to sex until the age of 16, the relationship was consensual, and not coercive in any way much less violent, so it wasn’t a rape in the true sense of the word.

If you are a female Democrat the rape of 14-year old Cherice Morales goes like this:

An emotionally struggling young girl, a student at Billings Senior High School, flirted with Stacey Rambold, a 49-year-old teacher at the school, and instead of recognizing she was searching for a father figure, or for someone to care about her,  and needed help, he had sex with her. The law in Montana says a girl cannot legally consent to sex until the age of 16, so the relationship was not consensual. It was a total betrayal of the role of teacher. He was a predator and she was his prey. It was rape.

Unfortunately, the young woman bragged about the relationship to a church member,  who took the entire affair out of context and reported it to police. The teacher was charged with rape, but the good kind of rape, statutory rape, only because of Cherise’ chronological age. This was a family situation that never belonged in court.

It wasn’t an accident that the girl confided to a church member that she was out of her depth with a married teacher. She was looking for help. It was totally appropriate to refer the matter to the police.  The teacher was charged with rape because he is a rapist. It doesn’t matter if it was statutory rape or forcible rape. Rape is rape.

During the court proceedings, the young woman took her own life, which is evidence she was unstable to begin with. She would probably still be alive if they hadn’t made a spectacle of her sex life. Yes, Cherise’s mother blames the affair for her suicide, but she’s naturally distraught, and she was quick to collect a pot of gold from her lawsuit against the school. Her accusations just can’t be taken seriously.

During the court proceedings, the young girl took her own life, which is evidence of the stress the rapes put her under. If Stacey Rambold had done the right thing and found Cherise help when he saw her acting out, she would still be alive today. Cherise’s mother said as much in open court. A mere $91,000 can never make up for Mrs. Hanlon’s loss. No one knows her child more than her mother, she should be listened to.

Stacey Rambolt agreed to a plea deal to make it all go away. The court imposed impossible rules, like staying away from the children in his own family. It’s understandable that he couldn’t adhere to them all. The court was right to forgive him and let him start over. He’s lost his wife, his job, his reputation, he’s been punished.

Stacey Rambolt agreed to a plea deal to make it all go away. The court imposed reasonable rules, like staying away from children. When he violated them, they just gave him another chance. He deserves to lose his wife, his job, his reputation, and his freedom too. He raped a 14-year-old, he deserves to go to jail for a long time.

Prosecutors always overcharge. There was no way the prosecution was going to get the 20 years in prison they asked for; not on these facts, even with ten of those years suspended. The judge listened to all sides and thought 31 days was fair. He said the girl was no innocent 14-year-old and explained his sentence by saying there is confidential information about her he cannot give out. His decision of a month in jail sounds fair to me.

The prosecutors asked for 20 years with ten of those years suspended. That in itself was a gift. The judge ignored Cherise’s mother. He made light of the rape by saying the girl was older than her age, and excused his sentence by saying there is confidential information about her he cannot give out. His decision of a month in jail should be reason to impeach him.

Thursday, more than 400 Montana citizens (heavy on women, though there were many men who attended) rallied to press for Judge Baugh’s impeachment. A spokeswoman for the group said that although they appreciated the judge’s apology, his words were a window into his heart. He has shown himself not fit to be a judge. More than 30,000 people have signed a petition to have him removed.

So now we come to your verdict. What say you all?


Judge Baugh, Auliea Hanlon and Stacey Rambold photos from Billings Gazette Facebook

Cherise Morales photo from Tumblr

tncrmJean Ann Esselink is a straight friend to the gay community. Proud and loud Liberal. Closet writer of political fiction. Black sheep agnostic Democrat from a conservative Catholic family. Living in Northern Oakland County Michigan with Puck the Wonder Beagle.

Follow me on Twitter as @Uncucumbered or friend me on Facebook.

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