BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — State prosecutors on Wednesday appealed as "illegal" a 30-day sentence handed down by a Montana judge to a former teacher for raping a student who later killed herself.
The announcement came after District Judge G. Todd Baugh received widespread condemnation for the sentence and his comments that the victim was "older than her chronological age."
Defendant Stacey Rambold, 54, last week received 15 years in prison with all but a month suspended for his months-long sexual relationship with Billings Senior High School student Cherice Moralez.
Attorneys for the state and Yellowstone County say a minimum of two years in prison for Rambold is mandated under state law.
"We believe that the sentence Judge Baugh imposed on Stacey Rambold is illegal," Attorney General Tim Fox said in a statement. "Using the means provided by state law, we are appealing his sentence and working diligently to ensure that justice is served."
Baugh has sought to undo his actions since the Aug. 26 hearing. He said two days later that his comments about Moralez were inappropriate. And earlier this week, Baugh scheduled a resentencing hearing for Rambold for Friday. In that order, the judge agreed with the state's determination that Rambold's original sentence conflicted with Montana law.
But prosecutors on Wednesday filed notice that they want the resentencing canceled so the appeal can proceed. Though Baugh's bid to resentence Rambold is "well-intentioned," Chief Deputy Yellowstone County Attorney Rod Souza wrote, the judge lacks the authority to take back his original sentence.
Moralez's mother, Auliea Hanlon, said through her attorney that she welcomed the appeal and the attorney general's involvement in the case.
"Mrs. Hanlon was horribly disappointed with the 30-day sentence and was, frankly, quite shocked," said her attorney, Shane Colton. "She's pleased that the county attorney's office and attorney general's office understands that the most significant date to be considered in this sentencing is Cherice's birthday. She was 14."
Rambold last week began serving his monthlong term at the state prison in Deer Lodge.
It wasn't immediately clear if prosecutors would seek to keep him in custody pending the appeal, which attorneys said could take between six and 18 months to work its way through the state Supreme Court.
Rambold's attorney, Jay Lansing, has not responded to repeated requests for comment on the case. His office said Wednesday he had no plans to do so.
Court documents and transcripts show Lansing sought a short sentence for his client based in part on Rambold's lack of prior criminal offenses other than a traffic ticket.
Lansing also said the former business teacher had fully accepted responsibility for his actions through a 2010 deferred prosecution agreement, in which Rambold admitted his guilt and agreed to seek treatment as a sex offender.
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