An odd ending to a sad story

Cole Charboneau

We doubt anyone left the courtroom with a good feeling after the sentencing of Cole Charboneau.

The former fourth-grade teacher pleaded guilty last Wednesday to one felony count of second-degree statutory sodomy, averting a trial that was weeks away on a broader array of charges involving sexual contact with boys younger than the ages of 12 and 15.

Court testimony made it clear that deep, long-term scars linger from this abuse of trust, including one victim who is encountering difficulties with counseling. At least three parents offered written or verbal statements at last week’s hearing, which ended with Judge Daniel Kellogg sending Charboneau to prison with an admonishment that the disgraced former teacher caused emotional damage comparable to a school shooting.

Our intent here is not reopen old wounds, nor to second-guess a plea deal that was agreed upon by all parties in this case. That is their call.

We only note the odd way that this high-profile case nearly slipped under the radar, with little notification in written or electronic form notifying the press — and by extension the public — about a possible resolution.

Was there an interest in keeping this one quiet? We don’t know. Buchanan County Prosecutor Ron Holliday told News-Press NOW that he knows of no such attempt in this case.

“There was no way to keep it away from the press,” he said. “It’s going to be a big deal for the community.”

Readers should understand that this hearing was open to the public and nothing was hidden. Our editor and reporter walked right in. It should be noted, however, that both reporter and editor detected a sense of surprise when they entered the courtroom, notebooks in hand.

The hearing was scheduled 48 hours before, when the prosecution and defense reached agreement on a plea deal. We found out from a tip, rather than an official posting on a docket. Holliday said things sometimes get left off Casenet, the state’s online docket system for criminal cases.

“What I tell our victims is, if you have questions if something is going to happen, call us,” he said.

It’s true that these things happen. It’s also true that it happened in a case that touched so many raw nerves, with the defendant’s family irked by media coverage and the public questioning the rational behind this plea deal. It’s also embarrassing for the school district, though it was not a legal party to this case.

Maybe it’s a small thing in such a profoundly sad story. But an open accounting of what happened is, unfortunately, part of the catharsis, if not for the victims, then at least for a public that cares deeply about the welfare of children.