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Sep 6, 2013 2:57 PM by Q2 News

Supreme court cancels planned Rambold hearing

BILLINGS - The Montana Supreme Court has granted the state's petition to vacate Judge G. Todd Baugh's planned 1:30pm hearing today.

However, the appeal process initiated by the Attorney General's Office on September 4 will proceed.

Even with the hearing vacated Judge Baugh entered his courtroom shortly after 1:30pm. He reviewed the case, going over key dates.

Court was adjourned at 1:50 p.m. Judge Todd Baugh says next the Montana Supreme Court will proceed with the appeal process and order what they see fit.

The order to vacate from the Montana Supreme Court came with less than an hour before Judge Baugh was to hold a hearing to amend his sentence of Stacey Rambold. Rambold admitted to the rape of a high school student in 2008.

The Montana Attorney Generals office filed to have the case brought up on appeal to the Montana Supreme Court. Both the prosecution and defense in the case had filed briefs in agreement. The Montana Attorney Generals office filed an emergency petition late Thursday to halt the hearing today.

The case began in 2008 when Cherice Moralez, then 14, was a student at Billings Senior High School and Rambold, then 49, was a teacher.

Moralez's mother Auliea Hanlon claims Rambold's "pre-sexual grooming" of her daughter led to the pair having sex.

School officials learned of the relationship, and Rambold resigned.

Later that year, authorities charged Rambold with three counts of sexual intercourse without consent.

"It's not probably the kind of rape most people think about," Judge Baugh said at sentencing. "It was not a violent, forcible, beat-the-victim rape, like you see in the movies. But it was nonetheless a rape. It was a troubled young girl, and he was a teacher. And this should not have occurred."

As the case wound its way through the legal system, Cherice committed suicide. She was a few weeks shy of her 17th birthday.

"As a result of the sexual assault and its aftermath, (Cherice) experienced severe emotional distress, humiliation and embarrassment and fell into irreversible depression that tragically led to her taking her own life on February 6, 2010," Auliea Hanlon, Cherice's mother, said in a complaint filed against Rambold.

With Cherice's death, the prosecution entered into what is known as a "deferred prosecution agreement" with Rambold.

This meant that all charges against Rambold would be dismissed if he completed a sex-offender treatment program and met other requirements. One of them was to have no contact with children.

Rambold admitted to one of the rape charges.

But the ex-teacher fell short of the agreement.

"He had some contacts with nieces and nephews in a family setting and other adults were present," Baugh said.

He also had relationships with women that he didn't tell his counselors about.

"That is a violation from his deferred prosecution so he was dropped from the plan."

As a result, the case was revived in December 2012.

At a hearing August 26th, prosecutors asked the judge to send Rambold away for 20 years.

The defense argued that Rambold has suffered enough. His lawyers said he lost his career and his marriage and has the "scarlet letter of the Internet" due to the publicity surrounding the case, the Billings Gazette reported.

Baugh ruled that Rambold's infractions weren't serious enough.

"He made some violations of his treatment program," he said. "They were more technical and not the kind you would send someone to prison for."

He sentenced Rambold to 15 years in prison. Then, he suspended all but 31 days of the sentence, according to the Yellowstone County District Court.

In addition, the judge gave him credit for one day he spent in jail.

Incredulous at what had happened, Hanlon shouted at the court, "You people suck!"

"She wasn't even old enough to get a driver's license," Hanlon said in a statement released by her attorney. "But Judge Baugh, who never met our daughter, justified the paltry sentence saying she was older than her chronological age. I guess somehow it makes a rape more acceptable if you blame the victim, even if she was only 14."

Baugh has defended his ruling. He told CNN he believes Rambold is "treatable" and a "low risk to re-offend."

Two videotaped interviews with Cherice -- one with the police department and one with the defense attorney -- were played in court, he said.

"She seemed older than her chronological age," Baugh said. "Basically what we had was a troubled young girl."

He added, "I simply did not have the evidence to conclude that her taking her life was because of her sexual offense by Mr. Rambold."

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