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Hundreds rally to protest Montana judge over 31-day rape sentence

By Laura Zuckerman

(Reuters) - Hundreds of demonstrators gathered on Thursday outside the offices of a Montana judge to protest a one-month sentence he gave an ex-teacher convicted of raping a 14-year-old student who later killed herself and the judge's remarks suggesting the victim was partly at fault.

District Judge G. Todd Baugh has come under harsh criticism since sentencing former Billings high school teacher Stacey Rambold on Monday to 15 years in prison, then suspending all but 31 days of that term, for the 2007 rape of Cherice Moralez. Rambold, 54, also received credit for one day served.

Before handing down the sentence Baugh said that Moralez, who committed suicide in 2010, was "probably as much in control of the situation" as Rambold and that the teen seemed older than her age.

The judge, who apologized for his remarks on Wednesday, made an appearance at the protest but did not speak, said Marian Bradley, president of the Montana chapter of National Organization for Women and co-organizer of the rally. Auliea Hanlon, the dead girl's mother, also attended the rally, which organizers said drew 500-700 people.

Kate Olp, co-organizer of the Billings protest and an online petition demanding that Baugh step down, said his comments may lead victims of sexual assault to avoid reporting it for fear of mistreatment by the legal system.

"He took the responsibility off the shoulders of an adult and placed it on the fragile shoulders of a child," she said.

Demonstrators observed two minutes of silence for Moralez and her mother, Olp said.

"I looked up and it was absolutely unbelievable. I looked out over the crowd. There were tears everywhere; people were crying, men and women," she said.

In sentencing Rambold, Baugh ignored a recommendation by prosecutors for a 20-year term with half of it suspended for the 2007 rape of Moralez, then a student in a technology class taught by Rambold at Senior High School in Billings.

Rambold was charged in 2008 with three counts of sexual intercourse without consent, the Montana equivalent of rape.

Moralez killed herself in 2010 while the case was pending. Prosecutors struck a deal with Rambold in which he admitted to a single rape charge to be dismissed in three years if he successfully completed sex offender treatment.

The case against Rambold, who was suspended in 2008 from his teaching post and ultimately resigned, was reinstated after prosecutors learned he had been expelled from the treatment program for breaking its rules.

He pleaded guilty in April to sexual intercourse without consent stemming from the 2007 assault of Moralez.

At the sentencing hearing Monday, Rambold's attorney, Jay Lansing, argued his client had been sufficiently punished by losing his job, his marriage and his self-esteem in the aftermath of the rape charges, court records show.

(Editing by Dan Whitcomb and Cynthia Osterman)

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