Missouri man to return home with suspended sentence

The Rutland Herald, Vermont/February 13, 2010

White River Junction - A Missouri man who used the word of God to molest a woman will do no prison time and can return to his home state, based on a plea deal reached Thursday.

Paul J. Cool, 49, of Amity, Mo., pleaded guilty in White River Junction District Court to five misdemeanor counts of engaging in a prohibited act.

Under the plea deal, Cool is expected to be sentenced to two to five years, all suspended.

On Dec. 1, Cool pleaded innocent to three felony counts of lewd and lascivious conduct for allegedly repeatedly sexually assaulting a woman from 2006 until 2007 in Royalton.

According to affidavits filed with the court, the woman, who was 18 years old when the assaults began, told investigators Cool was a priest in a splinter sect of the Mormon church and told her God had instructed him to prepare her for marriage.

Cool did not speak during the proceeding except to admit his guilt to each misdemeanor charge, which specifically described his acts with the woman.

Cool was also facing a felony charge of lewd and lascivious conduct with a child in Middlebury District Court for allegedly assaulting the Royalton woman's sister.

According to affidavits, the assaults took place in Cornwall from 2006 until 2007 and began when the girl was 10 years old.

Windsor County Deputy State's Attorney Martha Neary said she anticipated the charge would be dismissed.

A charge of violating his conditions of release - for entering court carrying his newborn daughter Dec. 18 despite the court's order that he have no contact with minor females - was dismissed.

Neary said Cool will be placed on probation and will have to complete sex offender treatment.

He is allowed to return to Missouri, although his conditions of release prohibited him from leaving the state and some time between Dec. 1 and Dec. 18 he returned to Missouri anyway.

Cool is expected to return for sentencing, which is scheduled for March 15 to give the victim time to either come to court or provide a statement to be read into the record.

After pleading guilty, Cool declined comment. His attorney, Elizabeth L. Hibbitts of Burlington, said her client will return to Missouri immediately.

"He misses his family and he needs to go home," she said.

Cool is prohibited from having contact with female minors, except for supervised contact with his 2-month-old daughter. To allow him to come home, his 13-year-old stepdaughter will have to move out of the house.

"I think it was a fair sentence for both sides," Hibbitts said. "The state had issues of proof and we had the vagaries of a jury trial. Only in the dark shadows of the Brooke Bennett case does this rise to newsworthiness."

Judy Jones, Midwest associate director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said she was glad Cool's actions were now part of the public record.

"We're grateful that these brave but wounded girls will be spared years of legal wrangling and potentially tough courtroom testimony," Jones said. "We're also glad that Cool is now an admitted criminal and we hope his employers, neighbors and fellow church members will never forget that he admitted his wrongdoing in court."

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