EXCLUSIVE: Cherry was raped by her teacher at 14. Classmates shunned her for reporting it. Then she shot herself dead in her mother’s bed. Family reveal her ‘living hell’ and their fury that her attacker got just 30 days in jail
- Cherice Moralez, 14 at the time, was bullied by classmates after charges were brought against her Montana teacher Stacey Rambold, 48
- Friends ‘gave her dark looks and walked on other side of school corridor’
- Cherice was found by her horrified mother in her bed after shooting herself dead when it became too much to bear
- School had issued Rambold with a warning over inappropriate behavior four years before he raped Cherice but left him in charge of minors
- Rambold admitted to raping the vulnerable teenager on several occasions in 2007 in his marital home, car and office
- Judge gave Rambold just 30 days in jail instead of maximum of life because ‘he’d suffered enough’ and claimed Cherry was ‘in control’
- Family hit back saying: ‘He is the highest authority of law and he pretty much just said it’s okay’
- ‘This guy was 48. She was 14. You think you’re all grown up at 14 but you’re not. She wasn’t. She needed protecting and looking after’
- Protests planned for today and nationwide petition calling for judge’s removal has 10,000 signatures
By Laura Collins In Billings, Montana Daily Mail PUBLISHED: 28 August 2013
The full horror of the torment endured by a schoolgirl who shot herself dead in her mother’s bed after being repeatedly raped by a teacher who will serve just 30 days in jail can be revealed today.
Speaking exclusively to MailOnline family members have told how Cherice Moralez, 14 at the time of her ordeal, was shunned and bullied by classmates after charges were brought against her Montana teacher Stacey Rambold – who admitted to raping the vulnerable teenager on several occasions in 2007.
The family have spoken of their sense of injustice and their horror at revelations that the school district had issued Rambold, 48, with a warning over inappropriate behavior four years before he groomed Cherice, but left him in charge of minors.
One relative said: ‘They say religion is for people who’re afraid to go to hell and spirituality is for people who’ve already been there.
‘Well that’s where Cherry was. She was in hell. She was beautiful and he took away everything beautiful.’
The ordeal and the legal process that began with Rambold’s arrest in 2008, was too much for Cherry, as family knew her, to bear.
After being haunted by the ordeal for over a year, on February 6, 2010, three weeks short of her 17th birthday she shot herself in her mother’s bed.
Now those who witnessed Cherry’s suffering have spoken of their anguish and disbelief at the paltry sentence handed down in Billings District Court on Monday.
Rambold was charged on three counts of Sexual Intercourse Without Consent (Felony) in July 2010.
The prosecution was deferred for 36 months on various conditions including completing the Sexual Offender Treatment Program at South Central Treatment with Micheal Sullivan.
Anguish: Cherry’s relatives have spoken out about how the teen was stunned and bullied after her attacker was charged. They have also described their anguish and despair at her attacker’s paltry sentence
Post the case being revived, and in the absence of a victim anymore he pleaded guilty to one of these counts.
The prosecution had recommended a 20 year sentence with 10 years suspended. The maximum Rambold faced was life.
Instead Judge G Todd Baugh appeared to agree with the defense assertion that Rambold had ‘suffered enough’ in losing his job, his wife, his teaching license and his house.
The decision, and the remarks of the judge who has been forced to defend it, come as a bitter final blow to Cherry’s family.
Cherry’s mother Auliea Moralez accused the judge of ‘trying to make rape more acceptable,’ when, in handing down his judgment Judge Baugh described Cherry as ‘older than her years’ and ‘in control of the situation.’
His words have provoked widespread outrage. Within a day of being posted, a petition by democratic campaigning website MoveOn.org, calling for his removal from office had garnered more than 10,000 signatures and a protest is to be held today in front of the town courthouse.
Tormented: ‘She was in hell. She was beautiful and he took away everything beautiful,’ Cherry’s relative told MailOnline in an exclusive interview
An interview with local newspaper The Billings Gazette in which the District Judge stood by his decision only incited further outrage as he sought to clarify his stance with the statement: ‘Obviously a 14-year-old can’t consent. I think the people have in mind that this was some violent, forcible, horrible rape.
‘It was horrible enough as it is just given her age, but it wasn’t this forcible beat-up thing.’
Reacting to the comments a close family member old MailOnline: ‘He is the highest authority of law and he pretty much just said, “Oh it’s okay. She went along with it. So it’s okay.” And it’s not okay.
‘This guy was 48. She was 14. You think you’re all grown up at 14 but you’re not. She wasn’t. She needed protecting and looking after.’
Instead, some of the family now believe she was left open to a sexual predator who was already on the school district’s radar.
Rambold had received a warning four years earlier to avoid touching or being alone with female students.
A court affidavit first reported by KTVQ in 2008, stated: ‘In 2004 Senior High principal Scott Anderson met with Rambold to discuss allegations that he touched a girl’s thigh and waist and was told to keep, ‘his hands off all students.’
The court affidavit reportedly said Anderson warned Rambold, ‘anything further would result in a formal investigation and a copy in his personnel file.’
Cherry’s relative said this only added to the family’s fury.
‘Tell me how this makes sense? The law says that anything under 16 is illegal,’ the relative said. ‘The man signed a confession. He did it and he got to walk away.’
She continued: ‘The judge let everybody off with that sentence. He let the school off, he let Rambold off… I’m not saying that he was the only reason she took her life but that was the straw that broke the camel’s back.’
On the day of her death, Cherry had been due to join her mother and young brother at the Pine Derby for Boy Scouts but changed her mind at the last minute.
When the family returned home later that day, one relative recalled, Cherry’s mother thought her daughter was sleeping in her room.
‘It must have been 15 minutes or so before Auliea went into check, Cherry was in her mom’s bed.
She thought she was sleeping then she put on the light.
‘She’ll spend a long time trying to get rid of the image of what she saw.’
Her daughter had shot herself where she lay.
According to the relative Cherry’s mother ‘was not perfect’ but tried her best to look out for her admittedly wayward – and vulnerable – daughter.
Cherry’s parents were divorced and she split her time between mother Auliea and her natural father John Moralez.
Auliea now lives with Raymond Hanlon who she married after her divorce and went on to have three children with. For a while Cherry lived with her grandmother.
According to the family it was an utter shock when, in April 2008, a member of the church group Cherry attended told her mother that Cherry had made allegations regarding Rambold.
One said: ‘Her mother made a point of writing down all the contact names and numbers in Cherry’s phone.
‘She had Stacey written down with the rest but she thought it was a girl. She had no idea.’
Cherry’s family were united in their decision to press charges and pursue Rambold and the School District through the court.
The teen had, the relative explained, been reluctant to press charges for fear of the social stigma.
Her anxieties were tragically realised: ‘When you’re a teenager your whole life revolves around friends, buddies and social ties.
‘But after this happened she had none of those really. It was all dark looks, people would step out of the way, shun her.
‘He ruined her life in school. And she went back and she went back and she went back until it was just too much.’
Vulnerable and in need of support Cherry found many former friends at Billings Senior High School shunned her once rumors of the then 14 year old’s ‘affair’ with Stacey Rambold, then 49, took hold.
The protracted and confusing legal process did not help.
Rambold was arrested on 31 October 2008 and charged on three counts of sexual intercourse without consent.
Charging documents show that Cherry was a ninth grader when she had sexual contact with Rambold three times between October and December 2007.
One encounter took place in his car, one in the business and technology teacher’s office and the third as the twice-married man’s marital home.
The truth had exploded earlier that summer, leaving the Moralez’s family riven and showing an impact on Rambold’s own domestic situation.
He and his second wife separated in June 2008. The divorce was finalized in July, the same month he resigned from the teaching post from which he was on paid leave.
But while the criminal case was pending Cherry took her life. Without her testimony the state could not obtain the felony convictions they were seeking in trial.
In July 2010 a deferred prosecution was offered as a compromise – Rambold pleaded guilty to one of the three counts and agreed to undertake sexual offender counseling.
Under the agreement the criminal charges would have been dismissed within three years if Rambold abided by the sex offender treatment and other stipulations.
Auliea Moralez brought a Wrongful Death Case against the school in 2011 and was awarded $91,000 in a settlement – a condition of which is confidentiality on the agreement details.
But Rambold did not abide by the conditions of his deferred sentence. He was thrown off the sex offender programme for having sexual relations with a woman and failing to disclose this to his probation officer. He also broke the conditions by being in the company of minor – albeit supervised visits to family members.
Her fault? Judge Todd Baugh ruled that Cherice was ‘older than her chronological age’ and that in listening to the girl’s police interviews, he came to believe that she was in control of the relationship with her teacher
But though this revived the case in December 2010, this week Judge Baugh stated that he did not consider these violations ‘serious.’
‘This whole thing,’ Cherry’s relative admitted, ‘Has just floored us. We went along on Monday expecting, I don’t know… something.
‘Instead you’ve got this kind of slimy guy who just seems to skim along just fine.
‘So he thinks his life is ruined? If it is it’s because he chose that – he made a conscious decision every single day he woke up and did what he did.
‘Cherry was 14-years-old.’
In a rambling defense of his comments and the sentence he handed Rambold, the judge told the Billings Gazette on Tuesday: ‘I think what people are seeing is a sentence for rape of 30 days.
‘Obviously on the face of it, if you look at it in that way, it’s crazy.
‘No wonder people are upset. I’d be upset, too, if that happened.’
But the judge insisted the reasons for Rambold’s termination from the sex offender programme were not serious enough to warrant the lengthy prison sentence the prosecution was seeking.
Yellowstone County Attorney Scott Twito expressed his frustration at this. He said: ‘We respect the judge but we vehemently disagree with his sentencing decision.
‘I sent one of my best deputies who’s my chief deputy, down there to fight this out and unfortunately the judge did not agree with our recommendation, which included substantial prison time.’
He admitted there were ‘limited avenues to explore’ in terms of appealing the sentence.
For confidential support, call the Samaritans on 08457 90 90 90, log on to www.samaritans.org or visit a local branch.
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