Howard jury acquits teacher of sex abuse of student in 1981

July 30, 1991|By Jackie Powder

A Howard County jury acquitted a music teacher yesterday of sexually abusing one of his students 10 years ago when he was the band director at Centennial High School.

The teacher, Donald Barry Cohen, 45, was charged in January with one count of sexual child abuse after a former student told county police last August of the alleged incident.

The jury deliberated an hour and 15 minutes before finding Mr. Cohen not guilty.

"They tried to portray her as being some naive little kid and, believe me, she was not," Mr. Cohen said of his former student.

Mr. Cohen was a teacher at Glenwood Middle School when he was indicted. Since that time he has been placed on administrative duties.

"This was the cruelest thing that anyone has ever done to me," said Mr. Cohen, who was acquitted two years ago of a charge of fondling a 13-year-old student. "To have this come out of the blue after 10 years, I couldn't believe it."

Jonathan Scott Smith, Mr. Cohen's lawyer, criticized the way the police handled the case, saying they conducted no investigation before filing charges against the teacher.

Mr. Smith argued that the state failed to prove that a custodial relationship -- necessary for a finding of child abuse -- existed between Mr. Cohen and the woman at the time of the alleged incident.

He also said the woman, who was 17 in 1981, was past the age of consent for sexual intercourse, according to Maryland law.

Assistant state's attorney Lillian P. Clark maintained that Mr. Cohen violated the trust that society places in its teachers and that child abuse laws protect anyone under 18.

"The state believed he crossed the line, severing the teacher-student relationship," Ms. Clark said.

The former student, who now lives in Texas, testified during the three-day trial that she and Mr. Cohen developed a close friendship in and out of school, where she was a member of several music groups.

She said that she and Mr. Cohen had sexual intercourse at his apartment in May 1981 after he had pressured her to do so for two months.

It was only after participating in a sex-abuse victims' recovery group in Texas that the woman decided to tell police of the incident, she testified.

Mr. Cohen testified yesterday that the woman had pursued him romantically when she was his student and that he had made it clear to her that no sexual relationship could develop at that time.

However, toward the end of the 1981 school year, he said his feelings toward her changed.

Mr. Cohen testified that he and the woman had sex at his apartment on two occasions in June after she graduated from high school and began to discuss a future together.

The woman told police that she had no contact with Mr. Cohen after May 1981.

During the trial, however, Mr. Smith produced several letters the woman had written to Mr. Cohen after she left for college telling him that she wanted their relationship to continue.

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