Teachers defend a colleague charged with child sex abuse

December 10, 1993|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,Staff Writer

The Northeast High School student allegedly enticed into a sexual relationship with his science teacher in 1991 got an "A" in her class, but only because he earned it academically, an Anne Arundel Circuit Court jury was told yesterday.

Debra Hare, who was a student teacher at the school, said she was "not surprised" to learn that the alleged victim received an "A" in Laurie S. Cook's class. "He was a very bright student," she said.

Ms. Hare worked with Ms. Cook, 33, for six weeks in late 1991.

Ms. Cook, of Catonsville, is charged with child abuse for allegedly having sexual relations with a 14-year-old student between Sept. 1, 1991, and Feb. 28, 1992. She is the second of three Northeast High School teachers to be tried on sexual abuse charges.

Ronald W. Price, a former social studies teacher, was convicted in September of molesting three girls and sentenced to 26 years in prison. Charles A. Yocum, once named teacher of the year at the school, is awaiting trial.

Yesterday, Ms. Cook declined to testify as a dozen teachers and students from the school appeared on her behalf.

They described Ms. Cook as a caring and compassionate teacher who frequented school sporting events to support her students, telephoned parents at home when their children fell behind, worked after hours with problem students and kept her door open to any of them who needed help.

"I would believe anything Laurie Cook told me. I think she's upstanding," Maureen McMann, a 32-year-old science teacher at Northeast told the jury.

She said the attention Ms. Cook focused on the alleged victim was the same that she showered on many troubled students.

"She called parents religiously, and it worked," Ms. McMann said.

Earlier yesterday, the youth's sister, a 1992 graduate of Northeast High, told jurors that Ms. Cook drove her to the University of Rhode Island in August 1992 to help her look for housing there. While stopped at a fast-food restaurant during the trip, the sister said Ms. Cook told her she wanted to have her brother's baby.

Wednesday, the alleged victim, now 16, testified that he broke off his relationship with Ms. Cook because "she talked about wanting to be committed to me and marrying me and having my child."

Adrian Spears, a 17-year-old friend of the youth, testified yesterday that he listened on a telephone extension while Ms. Cook and the youth discussed an earlier sexual encounter. "It had to be better for you than it was for me," he quoted Ms. Cook as saying.

He told jurors that Ms. Cook frequently drove the alleged victim home after football practice, that she would stare at him while lecturing the class, and that she moved his seat to the front of the room early in the school year.

But Ms. Hare, who now teaches science at Arundel High School, said she moved the youth's seat to the front of the room to separate him from Adrian because the two were disruptive. The alleged victim, she said, was not credible.

"He seemed to try to to manipulate people to get away with the normal teen-age things," she said.

Other defense witnesses praised Ms. Cook and described her accuser as someone who would brag about an illicit affair that existed only in his mind.

"That's basically what he did -- he talked a lot," said William E. Atwell Jr., a 1992 Northeast graduate.

Rochelle Slutskin, a former science department chairman at Northeast, said she became concerned during the 1991-1992 school year because Ms. Cook was often seen after school hours alone with Adrian Spears.

Mrs. Slutskin said she told Ms. Cook to be careful because innocent relationships "might come back to haunt her."

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