By Laura Zuckerman
(Reuters) – A former Montana high school teacher was released from prison on Thursday after serving just one month for the rape of a 14-year-old student who later killed herself, a corrections department spokeswoman said.
The lenient term for Stacey Rambold, 54, for the rape of Cherice Moralez in 2007, which prosecutors had complained was below the legal minimum penalty for such a crime, drew public outrage.
The outcry from women’s groups was further inflamed by remarks made by the judge during the sentencing hearing, suggesting the victim was partly to blame. District Judge G. Todd Baugh said the teenager had seemed older than her years and was “probably as much in control of the situation” as her teacher.
Rambold was released from Montana State Prison about 10 a.m. local time, said Judy Beck, spokeswoman for the state Department of Corrections. He must check in with a probation officer in Billings, and has already been registered as a sex offender.
Rambold had been charged with three counts of sexual intercourse without consent, the Montana equivalent of rape, in 2008 in connection with Moralez, a student in a technology class he taught. He was suspended from his Billings Senior High School job and later surrendered his teaching certificate.
But before the case could go to trial, Moralez killed herself in 2010, crippling a prosecution that was depending on her testimony. In a plea deal struck later that year, Rambold admitted to a single count of rape, while prosecutors postponed the case and agreed to dismiss it if he completed sex offender treatment.
Prosecutors reinstated the case after being notified that Rambold had been dismissed from a treatment center for violating its rules. He pleaded guilty to rape in April, and last month was sentenced by Baugh to 15 years in prison – with all but 31 days suspended.
Baugh has apologized for his remarks about Moralez, but that has not quelled the outrage, which drew protests outside his offices last month. The Montana attorney general has appealed the sentence as insufficient under state law.
Chris Evans, probation and parole supervisor with the state Department of Corrections, said Rambold will be on probation until 2028.
His release comes with nearly 50 conditions, including sex offender treatment and no contact with those under 18 unless accompanied by an adult aware of his conviction and approved by his probation officer, Evans said.