News Law and Policy

Montana Judge Censured for Suggesting Teenage Rape Victim Partly to Blame for Attack

Jessica Mason Pieklo

The Montana Supreme Court publicly declared District Judge G. Todd Baugh guilty of misconduct in the case of a Billings teacher who admitted to raping a 14-year-old student.

A Montana judge who suggested that a 14-year-old rape victim was at least partially to blame for her attack and sentenced the teacher who admitted attacking her to only 30 days in jail received a public reprimand from the Montana Supreme Court Tuesday.

The Associated Press reports that Montana Supreme Court Chief Justice Mike McGrath delivered the censure to District Judge G. Todd Baugh of Billings, reading from a prepared censure statement. (A censure is a rarely used public declaration by the state’s highest court that a judge is guilty of misconduct.) “We have determined that, through your inappropriate comments, you have eroded public confidence in the judiciary and created an appearance of impropriety in violation of the Montana Code of Judicial Conduct,” McGrath said.

Baugh drew international condemnation after his comments and sentencing in the case of Stacey Dean Rambold. Rambold, a former Billings Senior High School teacher, admitted to raping his former student, who later committed suicide. Baugh originally sentenced Rambold to 15 years in prison, with all but 31 days suspended. With credit for one day previously served, that meant that Rambold was ordered to serve only 30 days in jail, a sentence that dramatically deviated from sentencing guidelines.

At the time he delivered Rambold’s sentence, Judge Baugh explained the unusual order by suggesting that because the victim “looked older than her chronological age,” she was complicit in the crime committed against her, saying at the hearing that the girl was “as much in control of the situation” as Rambold.

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Under Montana state law, children under 16 cannot consent to sex.

After protests and emergency filings by prosecutors in response to the sentencing deviation, Baugh apologized for his remarks and tried to amend his sentence. But the Montana Supreme Court intervened, and in April ordered a new sentencing hearing in the case, assigning the matter to a different judge. Rambold is now scheduled to be re-sentenced by District Judge Randal Spaulding on September 26.

In addition to the censure, the Montana Supreme Court also suspended Baugh for 31 days, effective in December. Baugh has said he plans to retire at the end of his term in December.

News Violence

Colorado Woman Sentenced to 100 Years for Attack on Pregnant Woman

Jason Salzman

“Dynel Lane will spend the rest of her life in prison and rightfully so,” Rep. Mike Foote (D-LaFayette) said in an email to Rewire.

A question remained for some after a Colorado woman was sentenced Friday to 100 years in prison for cutting a fetus from a pregnant person: Was her punishment sufficient?

Under a state law, Dynel Lane was convicted of additional penalties, on top of attempted murder and other charges, for assaulting a pregnant person, Michelle Wilkins.

But because the statute does not give “personhood” legal standing to a fetus, prosecutors could not bring murder charges and possibly the death penalty against Lane, who destroyed Wilkins’ fetus.

Pro-choice advocates say the 2013 law protects the civil rights of pregnant people by shielding them from potentially wrongful prosecution while still subjecting people like Lane to severe sentences, like the 100-year prison term she received.

“Dynel Lane will spend the rest of her life in prison and rightfully so,” Rep. Mike Foote (D-LaFayette) said in an email to Rewire. “I am thankful the legislature passed my Crimes Against Pregnant Women Act in 2013 and that it was used in her prosecution. We gave prosecutors and courts the tools they need to hold criminals accountable while at the same time keeping personhood out of our statutes. I wish this tragic case would have never happened, but I am glad our law was in place when it did.”

But anti-choice activists argue that Lane should have faced murder charges for her violent act.

“Dynel Lane’s sentence reminds us of what we’ve noticed over the years, that those who support abortion typically oppose the death penalty for the guilty yet support the execution of the innocent,” Colorado Right to Life spokesperson Bob Enyart said in an email to Rewire. “We advocate protecting the innocent and executing the guilty.”

Lane lured Wilkins to her home with a Craigslist advertisement for baby clothes. She then beat Wilkins unconscious and reportedly used two knives to remove the fetus.

Boulder District Attorney Stan Garnett asked Chief District Judge Maria Berkenkotter for a 118-year sentence, saying, “It won’t bring [Wilkins’ fetus] back, but it will send a message about human life,” according to the Post.

Republican legislators in Colorado have repeatedly advocated for legislation that would give legal rights to a fetus, including a legislative push after Lane attacked Wilkins in 2015.

Democrats defeated the GOP measure, arguing that it could be used to take away abortion rights and to prosecute pregnant people for reckless endangerment, if they damaged a fetus.

Colorado voters overwhelmingly rejected a 2014 fetal “personhood” initiative that would have given legal standing to fetuses. The measure would have given broad legal rights to fetuses as well—and would have banned legal abortion care in the state.

So-called fetal homicide laws are on the books in 38 states, according to a tally by the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCLS). Colorado’s law, which does not confer legal rights to a fetus, is among those listed. The NCLS lists 23 states that “have fetal homicide laws that apply to the earliest stages of pregnancy (‘any state of gestation,’ ‘conception,’ ‘fertilization’ or ‘post-fertilization’).”

Wilkins indicated to reporters that she felt justice was achieved in the case after Lane’s conviction in February on all six counts she faced, including multiple felonies.

She called the verdict “a triumph for justice, for Aurora [the name she’d chosen for her fetus], for myself … for the community.”

Analysis Violence

Hearing for Accused Planned Parenthood Shooter Overlooks His Extreme Anti-Abortion Views

Jessica Mason Pieklo

After a full day of testimony, which included an investigator's account that Dear had stopped at a crisis pregnancy center (CPC) before moving on to the Planned Parenthood, it was clear that neither the prosecution nor the defense wanted to talk about the central issue of Robert Lewis Dear Jr.’s case: anti-choice rhetoric and violence.

We won’t know until mid-May at the earliest whether the State of Colorado considers Robert Lewis Dear Jr. legally competent to stand trial for the murder of three people at a Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood last November. Thursday was the first round of Dear’s competency hearing as to his mental state and whether he should stand trial or face commitment at a state mental hospital. But after a full day of testimony, which included an investigator’s account that Dear had stopped at a crisis pregnancy center (CPC) before moving on to the Planned Parenthood, it was clear that neither the prosecution nor the defense wanted to talk about the central issue of Dear’s case: anti-choice rhetoric and violence.

According to Colorado law, a defendant is competent to stand trial so long as they do not have a mental disability or developmental disability that prevents them from having the “present ability” to consult with their attorney and a “reasonable degree of rational understanding in order to assist the defense,” or “prevents the defendant from having a rational and factual understanding of proceedings.”

A person could have a mental illness or a disorder that produces hallucinations or exaggerated thoughts, but so long as they understand what’s happening with regard to the charges against them, and have the ability to defend themselves if they choose, the law in Colorado says that’s enough to go to trial.

So do sincerely held religious beliefs and a paranoid belief the federal government is persecuting Christians rise to the level of a diagnosable delusional disorder—the kind of mental illness that meets one prong of the competency test for Dear but alone is not enough to declare a person legally incompetent to stand trial? What about Dear’s unwillingness to cooperate with his state-appointed attorney because he wanted to assert his constitutional right to self-representation? These were just a handful of questions at issue during the hearing for prosecutors, defense attorneys, and state mental health experts.

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Prosecutors argued Dear clearly and methodically charted out his attack on the Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood. Detective Jerry Schiffielbein, who was the primary investigator tasked with interviewing Dear, testified that Dear made several stops to try and locate the Planned Parenthood at issue, including one outside a CPC, where he asked a postal worker if the CPC was, in fact, the Planned Parenthood clinic he was looking for.

It turns out the Planned Parenthood was just down the road.

Prosecutors portrayed Dear as a man with deeply held religious and political convictions. They noted Dear is college-educated, though acknowledged his history of run-ins with law enforcement, including one incident of alleged sexual assault that Dear described to investigators as a “false rape.” Prosecutors noted that Dear had an issue with women; he referred to them, they said, as “honeypots” who were his “weakness.”

Dear’s political beliefs may be extreme, prosecutors argued—among them include the idea that President Barack Obama is the Antichrist and that martial law is imminent—but they should not disqualify Dear from standing trial. (Coincidentally, as noted by the medical professionals hired to evaluate Dear, radio personalities like conservatives Glenn Beck and Alex Jones say the same thing.)

But Dear’s attorneys worked on a different picture, calling forensic psychologist Jackie Grimmett to offer her opinion that Dear was delusional and not able to stand trial. Grimmett testified it was her opinion that Dear was not competent to do so, in part because he inconsistently shared information with his state-appointed attorney. At this point, Dear spoke out, saying “I’m going to represent myself. It’s my constitutional right. It’s my life on the line.”

Grimmett also testified that she believed Dear to be a “spiritual” man and was reluctant to “pathologize” Dear’s religious beliefs, but noted his religious sense of persecution was intertwined with his deep political convictions. That statement allowed Dear’s attorneys to try and focus her testimony on Dear’s distrust of the federal government, on his rage after the Waco siege of Branch Davidians and the Oregon militia standoff, and Dear’s desire to live off the grid.

Those beliefs, Dear’s attorneys argued, suggest Dear is irrational. And for the most part, Grimmett played along, stating it was her professional opinion that Dear’s paranoia of the federal government was so severe he lacked capacity to stand trial.

While a forensic psychologist, Grimmett acknowledged she was not certified by the American Board of Professional Psychology, the professional organization that sets standards of care and practice for the industry.

The State of Colorado called as a witness a second forensic psychologist, Thomas Gray, who had also evaluated Dear. While Gray agreed with Grimmett that Dear holds “extreme” political and religious beliefs, Gray also testified that it was clear to him that “Dear wanted to be able to dictate the scope of his defense.” Gray signed off on Grimmitt’s initial evaluation of Dear as not legally competent, though he conceded during his testimony that Dear appeared coherent, intelligent, and engaged with his defense.

What was largely overlooked during the hearing was what that “scope of defense” would be. As has been reported, Dear initially intended to plead guilty to the more than 170 counts he faces. But during Detective Schiffielbein’s testimony on the point of whether he believed Dear was competent enough to participate in his own defense, the detective testified that in recorded jail calls, Dear mentioned disagreeing with his attorneys. Dear now wants to raise a “defense of others” argument in his case, Schiffielbein said, and believes his attorneys are pushing an insanity defense over his wishes and his constitutional rights.

Defense of others is, broadly speaking, the legal argument that a crime is justified because its commission is preventing a greater evil. Anti-choice terrorist Paul Hill argued his murder of Dr. John Britton and Britton’s bodyguard was justified because it prevented Britton from performing more abortions, an act Hill equated to murder—as does Dear. Scott Roeder, during his trial for the murder of Dr. George Tiller tried to put forward a similar defense—that Roeder’s actions in assassinating Tiller were justified to prevent the “greater evil” of legal abortion.

Notably, Schiffielbein testified that Dear emotionally discussed both Gunn and Roeder as heroes, even tearing up at one point during the interview. Dear allegedly also told Schiffielbein he wanted to talk about anti-choice Olympic Park bomber Eric Rudolph, but was too tired.

Schiffielbein did not follow up on Dear’s offer to discuss Rudolph’s case.

By the end of day one of the hearing, it was no clearer how the judge would rule on Dear’s competency than at the beginning. But based on Thursday’s testimony, Dear’s beliefs and actions—the ones the defense framed as evidence that he was not competent to stand trial—are directly in line with other anti-abortion terrorists he named as admirers. And those terrorists were deemed competent to stand trial.

Dear’s hearing may not be finished yet, but it was very clear from the established testimony that not only did Dear know exactly what he was doing when he attacked Planned Parenthood, he wants a trial for the rest of the country to know about it. Not to talk about Barack Obama as the Antichrist, like his attorneys suggested, but to justify committing heinous crimes in the name of trying to stop legal abortion.

Will Dear get the venue? We won’t know until at least May 10, when his hearing is scheduled to continue. By then, anti-choice radical and Roeder associate Angel Dillard’s FACE Act trial will have concluded. Roeder, thanks to an unassociated Supreme Court ruling, will have had the opportunity to argue for a decrease in his life without parole sentence. Let’s not forget the forthcoming Summer of Mercy anniversary protest in Wichita, Kansas.

Which makes it odd that in a case where a man was arrested for shooting up a Planned Parenthood on purpose, prosecutors, defense attorneys, and even the judge spent next to no time on the role anti-abortion rhetoric played in Dear’s alleged actions. If the forensic pathologists are positing that Dear’s extreme anti-government beliefs are delusional, what about his extreme anti-abortion beliefs?

That may be the ultimate question in the Robert Dear trial, but it’s not one the State of Colorado appears that interested in answering.