MEADVILLE — Former Titusville Area School District teacher Rochelle Cressman was sentenced to five to ten years behind bars in the Crawford County Court of Common Pleas Tuesday morning.
Cressman was sentenced by Judge Mark Stevens. She pleaded guilty to three counts of statutory sexual assault on a minor aged 11 to 16 in November.
The charges stem from continued sexual contact with a former student over a nine month span from Sept. 2018 through April 2019. The student was 13 years old at the time.
Cressman was originally charged on 66 counts including 20 felony charges. Judge Stevens made sure that Cressman was aware that she abused “a position of trust” and that her actions after the alleged sexual assault was revealed were reasons why she should be incarcerated.
The sentencing court session started with Stevens issuing a court order that the sentencing memorandums filed by the commonwealth and the defendant would be put on the docket and sealed.
While Cressman and others supporting her character were allowed to present during the court session, both a statement from the victim and a statement from the victim’s mother were contained in the documents sealed by the judge.
Crawford County First Assistant District Attorney Paula DiGiacomo represented the state for the case. DiGiacomo spoke to the court about the case, saying how cases with female teachers and male students can be looked at differently.
DiGiacomo told the court that these cases impact the victims negatively and that they “can be more damaging to male youths” in some cases.
DiGiacomo created a narrative that what Cressman did was “beyond just the sex.” She told the court that Cressman had created a “physiological control of the victim” and that she had “groomed the victim” for ongoing abuse.
Lastly, speaking to the human interest aspect of the case, she said that the victim was “ a normal kid” and that the defendant had taken that life away from him.
Following DiGiacomo, the defense was allowed time to present its side of the story. First to speak was Cressman’s attorney, Stephen Colafella.
The defense wanted the court to know that while they were presenting reasons and factors that contributed to Cressman’s actions, it was “not an excuse.”
Colafella told the court that Cressman suffers from mental health issues. He set the scene of a young teacher in a new town married to an absentee husband who frequently traveled for work.
Feeling alone, Cressman attached herself to a family that needed her help. Colafella said that “as trust formed with the family,” Cressman went behind the mother’s back and started sexually assaulting the son under the premise of a relationship.
Cressman’s attachment to the family was so strong that after the sexual assault ended, Cressman sent a message to break up with family.
Colafella described their sexual assault as “very much out in the open.” Colafella also told the court that Cressman felt remorse and shame for her actions. He said that she will “never have the life she once had” and will be reminded of her actions daily “for the rest of her life.”
Cressman also had two family members, her brother, Caleb Wallace and uncle, John Hines speak for her as character references.
Wallace said that his sister was “lost.” Hines said that his neice made a mistake at a “low point in her life” after her mother passed.
Hines said that the person described is not the “person I know” and that her actions were “amidst her own despair.”
After hearing from Cressman’s relatives, Cressman herself read from a prepared statement.
She started her statement saying she “accepts the full responsibility of her actions.”
Cressman said that the victim was a troubled youth and she was “very involved trying to help him with those issues.” She said a sudden surgery, a failing marriage and mental health issues affecting her job were all reasons why she did what she did.
She finished, saying that she had been shunned from her family and friends and that she will continue to seek therapy and take medications to fix her state of mind.
While Cressman described the situation as a woman in trauma making a mistake, Stevens reminded her that the trauma she caused the victim will impact him for the rest of his life.
Stevens was stern when he said that the case is based on one “foundational fact” — that the victim was just 13.
After hearing much about how Cressman is better than the mistakes she made, Stevens reminded the court that they “can’t lose sight that it was wrong.”
“The trauma you were in, none of it justifies what you did,” said Stevens. Stevens put emphasis on the fact that as a teacher and family friend of the victim, Cressman was someone that was trusted.
He said that this case will impact trust in the teaching profession far away from the courtroom.
Stevens also reminded the court that what Cressman did was groom a child for systematic abuse. “This was a big deal,” said Stevens. “Bigger than just the acts themselves.”
After delivering his final statements to both parties, Stevens decided to sentence Cressman to 60 to 120 months in a state prison.
A large part of the sentence is that Cressman will have to register as a sex offender for the rest of her life.
Responding to the sentencing, DiGiacomo said that while the state was seeking a minimum of six years for Cressman, she was “very satisfied with the sentence.”
Dvorkin can be reached by email at Gdvorkin@titusvilleherald.com.