Priest Pleads No Contest in Assault Case
The Former Malvern Prep Teacher Was Charged with Intoxicating and Then Having Sex with His Student
By Jonathan Gelb
January 8, 2003
A priest who worked at the Malvern Preparatory School in Chester County pleaded no contest yesterday to sexually assaulting his 14-year-old student at a cabin in the Poconos in 1991.
The Rev. Richard J. Cochrane could be sentenced to 10 years in prison or fined $25,000. He was charged with giving alcohol to the teenager and then engaging in sexual activity with him during a weekend trip to the mountains, authorities say. The whereabouts of the former student, now 26, have not been made public.
Father Cochrane did not address the Monroe County Court or speak to reporters after the court proceedings. He had previously denied the charges, which were first made in 1998 after the student broke his silence.
"Father Cochrane is terribly embarrassed personally and as a member of the community. I know he feels terrible," said the Rev. Donald Reilly, head priest of the East Coast Augustinians based in Villanova. Father Cochrane, who has undergone psychological counseling, is still a member of the Augustinian Order, but he was removed from active ministering and teaching as a result of the allegations.
"My hope is that some good can come out of this tragedy," Father Reilly said.
James Marsh, assistant district attorney in Monroe County, said Father Cochrane is out of jail on $50,000 bail and has been travelling the region, although he is required to notify authorities of his whereabouts.
"I am pleased with the outcome of the case," Marsh said. "The exposure to sentence that he gets is the same as if he had come in and pleaded guilty to involuntary deviate sexual intercourse."
No sentencing date has been set, Marsh said.
Father Cochrane taught Bible studies for 24 years at the exclusive Chester County school that draws students from the entire Philadelphia region.
"We just wish the best for Father Cochrane and everyone involved," Headmaster James Stewart said yesterday.
According to testimony given by the former student at a 1999 preliminary hearing, he and Father Cochrane had become close friends before the assault, which occurred at a home owned by the parents of another student from the school.
Soon after arriving at the house, they began drinking from two cases of beer, the student's first experience with alcohol. The student testified that he was unable to walk and having blackouts and that he woke up naked next to Father Cochrane who then engaged him in a sex act. The next morning, they went hiking.
"I just denied it," the student, whose name is being withheld by The Inquirer because of the nature of the crime, said in 1999. "That this so-called friend could do this to me - I just did not want to accept that it happened. I am 100 percent sure he did it."
Monroe County prosecutors said they have evidence that Father Cochrane perpetrated a similar crime in 1990 with a second student at Malvern Prep who was 15 at the time. Charges have not been brought in that case because the statute of limitations has run out.
In both cases, prosecutors say, the students were freshmen in Father Cochrane's religion class. They were both given enough alcohol to become intoxicated and they both allege that Father Cochrane engaged in a sex act with them. Prosecutors say the priest was a "religious role model" to both students.
The cases have taken more than a decade to evolve for two reasons. First, the students did not confront Father Cochrane through legal channels until the late 1990s.
Then, after the priest's attorneys tried to block the second student from coming forward, the case was tied up on appeal in Pennsylvania Superior Court, which ultimately ruled that the stories of both students were admissable under law. That ruling precipitated Father Cochrane's plea yesterday, prosecutors said.
Father Cochrane's no-contest plea spares him from admitting guilt. Under law, the court records the plea as a conviction.
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