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BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — A Montana teacher was sentenced Friday to 10 years in prison in a notorious student rape case that dragged on for years and led to the censure of a judge who partially blamed the victim.
Stacey Dean Rambold, 55, was resentenced by a new judge exactly a year after he completed an initial one-month prison term for the crime.
Rambold appeared to grimace as Friday's sentence was read by Judge Randal Spaulding. He was then handcuffed and led away by deputies, pausing briefly to exchange words with family as he exited the courtroom.
Rambold pleaded guilty last year to a single count of sexual intercourse without consent in the 2007 rape of 14-year-old Cherice Moralez, a freshman in his Billings Senior High School business class. She committed suicide in 2010.
Rambold's attorney had argued for a two-year sentence, pointing out that the defendant had no prior criminal record, underwent sex offender treatment and was considered by the state as a low risk to re-offend.
Spaulding indicated that the nature of the crime outweighed those factors.
"I considered your abuse and exploitation of your position of trust as a teacher, and specifically Cherice's teacher," Spaulding told the defendant.
The state Supreme Court in April overturned Rambold's initial sentence, citing in part comments from Judge G. Todd Baugh, who suggested the victim shared responsibility.
Baugh was censured and suspended for 31 days. He's stepping down when his terms ends in January.
Yellowstone County Attorney Scott Twito said he was pleased with the new sentence, which included five additional years of prison time that were suspended.
"The criminal justice system worked today," he said.
John Moralez, the father of the victim, said he had hoped for a longer sentence, but added that 10 years was better than the one-month Rambold previously served.
During the hearing, Twito asked Judge Spaulding to reject attempts by Rambold's attorney to make the victim's conduct with her teacher a factor in the sentencing.
That included references by the defendant's attorney to video-taped interviews of the victim recorded by law enforcement prior to her death. Those recordings, which have never been made public, had been cited by Baugh during his sentencing.
Under state law, children under 16 cannot consent to sexual intercourse.
"The last thing we want to do is sit here in the criminal justice system and say, 'What is the age?' It doesn't matter. Fourteen is way too young," Twito said. "There has to be punishment. ... Punishment means prison."
Rambold's attorney, Jay Lansing, responded that there was no statute preventing the court from considering Moralez's conduct. He pointed out that prosecutors had not objected to comments about the videotaped interview during Rambold's first sentencing hearing.
Lansing requested for his client a two-year sentence in the custody of the Department of Corrections, with another 13 years suspended. That would have allowed Rambold to serve his time in a community setting rather than prison.
Rambold broke down crying during a brief statement to the court. He said he was sorry for his actions and had worked hard to make himself a better person. In a recent letter to the court, he lamented the international publicity the case attracted.
"No one can really appreciate and understand what it feels like to have so many people actually hate you and be disgusted by you," Rambold wrote. "I do not mention this for the sake of sympathy, but it has been hard."
It was uncertain if the new sentence would be appealed, Lansing said.
After the death of Moralez, the prosecution's primary witness, Twito's office in 2010 struck a deal with Rambold that initially allowed him to avoid prison altogether.
Rambold, however, violated that agreement by having unauthorized visits with relatives' children and entering into a relationship with an adult woman without telling his counselor. As a result, the case was revived and Rambold pleaded guilty.
Two additional counts sexual intercourse without consent were dropped under the deal with prosecutors.
During last year's sentencing, Baugh suggested Moralez had as much control over her rape as the defendant and said she "appeared older than her chronological age." He gave Rambold a 15-year term with all but one month suspended.
That triggered an appeal from the office of Attorney General Tim Fox, and ultimately resulted in the case being reassigned to Spaulding.
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