Prosecutors launch appeal to block new sentencing for Montana teacher in controversial student sex case

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

In yet another twist in the case of the Montana teacher sentenced to 30 days for having had sex with an underage student, authorities moved Wednesday to block a new sentencing hearing, saying it was illegal for the judge to rule his original sentence illegal.

The teacher, Stacey Dean Rambold, 54, is scheduled to be resentenced Friday in Billings after the judge said Tuesday he'd misread state law and said the correct term should have put him in prison for two years.

But prosecutors — who'd asked for a sentence of at least 20 years — said Wednesday that they plan to appeal the original sentence before a higher court, so the state attorney general's office asked state District Judge G. Todd Baugh to cancel the new hearing.

Yellowstone County Attorney Scott Twito told NBC station KULR of Billings that a judge's oral sentence is deemed final. Twito agreed that the sentence was illegal, but he said that's a matter for a higher court to decide, so it was probably outside of the law for Baugh to schedule a do-over.

And State Attorney General Tim Fox backed Twito in a statement Wednesday.

"Using the means provided by state law, we are appealing his sentence and working diligently to ensure that justice is served," Fox said.

Meanwhile, Rambold is sitting on the sidelines — in jail — waiting to find out whether he will serve a month, two years, 10 years or even more in prison. Rambold's attorney declined to comment.

Baugh created a national uproar Aug. 26 when he sentenced Rambold to 15 years in prison — with all but a month suspended — for having sex with a 14-year-old girl who later committed suicide.

Compounding matters, Baugh, 71, explained the sentence by saying in open court that the victim was "older than her chronological age" and was "as much in control of the situation" as Rambold was.

Baugh initially apologized for his words — calling himself a "blithering idiot" — but he stood behind the sentence.

Then, after a week of protests that included a national petition demanding his resignation, he reversed course on Tuesday and scheduled a new sentencing hearing for Friday.

Baugh said he'd overlooked a state law that now led him to believe he'd suspended too much of Rambold's sentence. Rambold should have faced, at minimum, two years behind bars, he said, so the original term "would be an illegal sentence."

The victim's mother told NBC's TODAY on Tuesday 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.

Court documents show that Rambold admitted having had intercourse with the girl at his Billings home in the fall of 2007 and acknowledged that she was "incapable of consent due to her age."

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. 

Two of the conditions of the agreement were that Rambold have no contact with any children and that he must report all sexual encounters with adult women to his counselors. In November, he was kicked out of the program for violating those terms (including having unsupervised visits with his nieces and nephews, who are minors). 

The charges were re-filed and, in April, Rambold pleaded guilty to a single felony count.

Baugh initially concluded that those violations weren't serious enough to warrant subjecting Rambold to the full sentence for sexual contact with a minor.

"These were violations of the treatment program, but involved no violence, no inappropriate sexual contact, and no new criminal activity," Baugh wrote in a supplemental sentencing memo filed Aug. 29. 

"The deferred prosecution in 2010 and the resulting probationary-like requirements were appropriate in 2010 and even with the violation, are still appropriate because there have been no substantive negative changes," he wrote.