MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

September 21, 2013

Ex-OSU student guilty of sexual battery


Associated Press

— STILLWATER (AP) — A former Oklahoma State University student accused of sexually assaulting male students as they slept pleaded guilty Friday to three counts of sexual battery and was sentenced to seven years’ probation.

Nathan Michael Cochran, 22, entered the guilty pleas in an agreement with Payne County prosecutors nine months after he was accused of molesting or attempting to molest OSU students as they slept in their dormitory rooms. Prosecutors dismissed a fourth sexual battery count.

Associate District Judge Stephen R. Kistler suspended a seven-year prison sentence and placed Cochran on probation instead. Cochran faced up to 10 years in prison on each felony count and would have been required to serve 85 percent of the sentence before he would be eligible for parole.

As part of the plea agreement, Kistler ordered Cochran to complete a six-month inpatient substance-abuse and behavioral-treatment program in the Tulsa area. Cochran must also register as a sex offender.

Assistant District Attorney Lynn Hermanson told Kistler that the victims in the case had been provided details of the plea agreement and agreed with it.

Cochran faced Kistler and answered, “Yes, sir,” when the judge asked him if he understood the nature of the charges and the consequences of his guilty pleas.

His defense attorney, Jay Husbands of Oklahoma City, described Cochran as “a bright young man” who wanted to get the case behind him.

“He’s accepted responsibility, and he’s moving forward with his life,” Husbands said.

The university came under fire over the way it handled the allegations against Cochran. Officials expressed concern that the university did not report the matter to law enforcement authorities, instead referring it to school disciplinary boards. Cochran was suspended from OSU for three years.

An affidavit filed in the case said OSU students claimed Cochran sexually battered them while they were asleep in a dorm room. The incidents occurred in August and November 2012.

University officials said they learned of the complaints in November, but Stillwater police said they didn’t learn of the allegations until December when they were contacted for comment about the case by OSU’s student newspaper.

In March, the OSU Board of Regents adopted recommendations from a task force that examined the school’s response. The task force was formed last year in the wake of a sex abuse scandal at Pennsylvania State University.

The task force’s report said the decision to not immediately alert authorities about the sexual assault allegations was “misguided” but broke no laws or internal policies. OSU had cited the Federal Education Rights Privacy Act as its chief reason for not notifying police.

The report recommended five ways the school could improve its sexual assault reporting protocol, including requiring every school under its system to promptly notify authorities of any allegations of sexual assault.