BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — Protesters planned a Thursday afternoon rally outside a Montana courthouse to call for the resignation of a judge who said a 14-year-old rape victim was "older than her chronological age."
District Judge G. Todd Baugh has said he "deserved to be chastised" for his comments about the victim, who he also said had as much control of the situation as the Billings Senior High School teacher who was in a sexual relationship with her.
The judge issued an apology Wednesday, but protest organizer Sheena Rice said she didn't believe he was sincere.
"It really points to a larger problem of victim-blaming in rape cases across the country," she said. "To see it happen in Billings, it's time we as a community take a stand against victim-blaming."
The judge has defended the 30-day sentence given to former teacher Stacey Rambold as appropriate because he was considered a low risk to re-offend. Yet a Montana prosecutor said Thursday that he believes Baugh erred in the sentencing.
Yellowstone County Attorney Scott Twito said that a legal review of the case by his office suggests Rambold should have received at least two years in prison. Twito said he's working with the appellate division of the state Attorney General's Office on whether to appeal.
A final decision has not been made.
Prosecutors originally sought a 20-year sentence with ten years suspended.
Baugh said the sentence was based on Rambold's violation of an earlier deal he made with prosecutors, rather than the original crime. He plans to file a further explanation for the sentence with the court.
"The public doesn't exactly understand how that came about," Baugh said, adding that it's not unusual in his experience for people to disagree with criminal sentences.
Baugh was first elected to the bench in 1984 and has been re-elected every six years since then without an opponent. He said he has not decided whether to run again in 2014 but has no intention of resigning.
Rice said protesters will seek to defeat Baugh if he runs again.
Joining in the backlash against the judge was Montana's Democratic governor, Steve Bullock, who said Baugh's comments "made me angry." But Bullock added that he has no authority over the judge and any complaints against him would be handled by the state Judicial Standards Commission.
Baugh, 71, first apologized Wednesday in a letter to the editor to The Billings Gazette. He later told reporters that what he said was wrong, irrelevant to the case, demeaning of women and not reflective of his beliefs.
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.
Yellowstone County officials 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 in December after prosecutors learned Rambold, 54, was kicked out of the program for having unsupervised visits with minors who were family members and not telling counselors he was having a sexual relationship with a woman.
Matt Volz reported from Helena.