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Embattled Montana judge orders new sentencing for teacher convicted of sex with student

Judge G. Todd Baugh reads a statement Wednesday in Billings, Mont., apologizing for saying a 14-year-old sexual abuse victim was 'older than her chronological age' and was 'in control' of the situation. Matt Brown / AP

The Montana judge who created a national uproar when he sentenced a teacher to 30 days in jail for having sex with a 14-year-old student backed down Tuesday and ordered a new sentencing hearing.

Former Billings Senior High School teacher Stacey Dean Rambold, 54, will be back in court Friday after state District Judge G. Todd Baugh said Tuesday that he'd misread state law and that he now believed Rambold should have faced, at minimum, two years in prison. 

In that case, Baugh said, the 30-day sentence — which set off protests outside the Yellowstone County last week and led to the creation of a nationwide petition demanding Baugh's resignation — "would be an illegal sentence."

"Illegal sentence" were the magic words, because the only avenue prosecutors have to contest the penalty is to show legal error. Yellowstone County Attorney Scott Twito told NBC News on Tuesday that "my job right now is to figure out if this case can be appealed."

Until Tuesday, Baugh had continued to insist that the 30-day sentence — actually, 20 years, but with all but a month suspended — was appropriate, even as he apologized for comments he made in court that were interpreted as having blamed the victim.

Baugh last week described himself as a "blithering idiot" for having said Aug. 26 that the victim was "older than her chronological age" and was as much in control of the situation" as Rambold was. 

The girl committed suicide after the assault came to light.

More than 45,000 people have signed an online petition demanding that Baugh, 71, resign, arguing that he has "engaged in the worst kind of victim shaming."

"We will no longer stand by while individuals speak about victims in this way," said Kate Olp, the petition's organizer.

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The victim's mother told NBC's TODAY that Baugh's original sentence and language left her "horrified."

"I don't believe in justice anymore. It was a joke," she said.

Rambold, a technology teacher, was originally charged with three felony counts of sexual intercourse without consent in 2008 when school officials first became aware of the sexual relationship.

The girl committed suicide in February 2010, denying prosecutors their lead witness. Prosecutors agreed at the time to defer prosecution for three years and dismiss the charges if Rambold completed a sex-offender treatment program. 

But Rambold was kicked out of the treatment program for violations, including missed meetings and having unsupervised visits with his nieces and nephews, who are minors. In April, he pleaded guilty to a single felony count.

At his original sentencing hearing last week, prosecutors asked the judge to put Rambold behind bars for 20 years, but Baugh said he didn't think the violations were serious enough to merit such a long prison term.

John Yang of NBC News contributed to this report.