Ex-teacher gets prison time for sexually assaulting student

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  • Mark Stevens
    American actor, film director and film producer (1916-1994)

Feb. 17—A former Titusville Middle School gym teacher is going to state prison for at least five years and will register as a sex offender for the rest of her life for sexually assaulting one of her 13-year-old male students.

Rochelle Cressman, 34, was sentenced Tuesday by Crawford County Court of Common Pleas Judge Mark Stevens to a total of five to 10 years in state prison followed by 10 years of probation for three felony counts of statutory sexual assault. She has to register as a sexual offender for the rest of her life as she is classified as a Tier 3 sexual offender under Pennsylvania law.

Pennsylvania State Police arrested Cressman in May 2019 for sexually assaulting the boy multiple times from Sept. 13, 2018 to April 18, 2019. Cressman was 32 and the boy was 13 at the time, according to court documents.

Cressman, a Titusville Middle School gym teacher, initiated the sexual contact with the boy, according to the criminal complaint. The two engaged in sexual activity at Cressman's then-residence in Oil Creek Township and at a residence in Titusville, according to the arrest affidavit filed in the case.

Cressman had worked for Titusville Area School District as a health and physical education teacher from August 2009 until April 2019. Titusville School Board formally accepted her resignation at its May 20, 2019, meeting.

At a court hearing in December 2020, Cressman's then-husband testified he found messages in May 2019 between his wife and the teenage boy on his wife's messaging watch which wasn't passcode protected. Her then-husband testified he then contact Crawford County Children and Youth Services as well as state police.

Stevens called Cressman manipulative and said she knew better — not only being some one who is educated, but also as a teacher.

"There's a reason you're supposed to know better — you're not 13," the judge said.

Cressman was charged with a total of 66 counts initially, but agreed to plead guilty to three counts of statutory sexual assault in November 2020 in a plea agreement with the Crawford County District Attorney's Office.

In exchange for her guilty pleas, the other 63 counts weren't prosecuted. The DA's office also agreed to recommend a sentence of a minimum of six years in jail and a maximum of no more than twice the minimum time given.

Paula DiGiacomo, first assistant district attorney, said Cressman violated a position of trust — not only as a teacher but also as a close friend of the victim's family.

Cressman's actions gained psychological control of the teenager through systematic grooming of their relationship, as well as the ongoing abuse, according to DiGiacomo.

DiGiacomo said that before the teen was interviewed in September 2018 by authorities about possible abuse, Cressman told the boy to say nothing had happened. Following that interview, Cressman then continued to abuse the child over time, DiGiacomo said.

Cressman also didn't allow the boy to have any girlfriends, nor allow him to hang out with any friends of the same age, DiGiacomo said.

A tearful Cressman told Stevens that she was in an unsatisfying, failing marriage at the time of her sexual abuse of the boy. She said the boy and his family had become like family to her.

"I'm sorry for being selfish and not taking into account anyone else's feelings," Cressman said of how the pattern of abuse could affect the teen and his family.

"In the fall of 2018, I made decisions that I will regret the rest of my life," Cressman said. She told the judge that when her relationship with the boy broke off in April 2019 it culminated in her attempted suicide May 3, 2019.

"You can't lose sight that it was wrong," Stevens bluntly said of her actions.

The judge said he was troubled, too, by what Cressman's actions were when the boy first was interviewed by authorities about a possible sexually abusive relationship with Cressman in September 2018.

"It didn't stop. That is lost on me," Stevens told Cressman. "There couldn't have been a more obvious red light that this has to stop — and it didn't."

"The cards you played were manipulative, threatening and fundamentally wrong," Stevens said of Cressman's dealings with the boy.

Stevens said Cressman had many roles with the victim and the family, including helping out the family financially.

"You wore many hats, but none of them was girlfriend," Stevens said. "You wore a hat of trust. That's what makes it so much worse."

While the DA's office recommended a six- to 12-year sentence plus 10 years of probation, DiGiacomo said the office was pleased with the outcome.

"A six- to 12-year sentence would have been in the standard range," DiGiacomo said, based on Cressman's lack of a prior record. "In the end, it's an appropriate sentence. We understand the court's ruling and sentence, we're satisfied."

Stephen Colafella, Cressman's defense attorney, said he thought the jail and probationary sentence handed down by Stevens was fair.

"I think it was well-reasoned," he said following Tuesday's sentencing. "Anytime you have someone in a position of trust and offense of that type is committed, you have to expect real consequences."

Keith Gushard can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at kgushard@meadvilletribune.com.

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