Michael Stephen Couch, 44, a former private school principal who pled guilty to five counts of indecent behavior with a juvenile, was sentenced to seven years, 18 months suspended, during court proceedings Sept. 11 in Franklin Parish.
District Attorney Penny Douciere represented the state in the case. The defendant was represented by Monroe attorney Val Solomon.
The sentence, which will run concurrently, was handed down by Judge Clay Hamilton in Fifth Judicial Court, Winnsboro, with supporters of both the defendant and victims present in the courtroom.
Outside a small group of victims’ rights advocates held signs in support of child abuse victims.
Couch was principal at Apostolic Tabernacle Christian School in Winnsboro. He was indicted on Feb. 26, 2018, by a Franklin Parish grand jury on 11 counts of sexual misconduct. He was originally charged with five counts of molestation of a juvenile and six counts of prohibited sexual misconduct between an educator and a student.
The case involved male victims ranging in age from 14 to 18 who attended the school.
On Jan. 13, 2020, Couch pled guilty to the reduced charge of five counts of indecent behavior with a juvenile. Sentencing was set to take place Aug. 10, but was postponed due to medical issues.
The maximum sentence for the charge is seven years per count. The concurrent sentence was part of the plea deal in the case. He will also have to register as a sex offender.
In handing down the sentence, Hamilton noted letters of support in behalf of the defendant and his gainful employment with the church, as well as consideration for his family, but also echoed the district attorney’s description of the crimes saying the crimes were “callous and egregious” due to the circumstances which placed the young victims in the spiritual and educational care of the defendant.
Commenting on the case later, Douciere said, “Delays due to the pandemic have made this a very drawn out ordeal for the victims and their families. The District Attorney’s office hopes that the imposition of this just and appropriate sentence will give them closure and peace.”
Couch was taken into custody to begin serving his sentence. Upon completion of his sentence, Couch will be placed on parole and probation. Douciere noted that if the defendant commits another crime, he will owe the 18 months which were suspended.