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Saturday, December 29, 2007                                                                                       View Comments

Retired pastor sentenced to prison for molestation

A retired pastor from Canada was sentenced to three years in prison today after telling a McHenry County judge he was sexually harassed by the 4-year-old Lake in the Hills girl he pleaded guilty to molesting.

Kenneth R. Cooke, 73, appeared to have reasonable chance at a probation sentence given his age, health problems and lack of criminal history heading into his sentencing hearing this afternoon.

But the Calgary man who once headed his own ministry likely blew his chance of avoiding prison when he took the witness stand and painted his pre-school age victim as a sexual aggressor.

"On a couple of occasions I felt I was sexually harassed," Cooke said. "I think there is psychological evidence that children even in their younger years can become interested in sex."

He later said he did nothing inappropriate to the girl, but pleaded guilty two months ago to avoid putting his family through a trial.

Judge Joseph Condon responded harshly, telling Cooke his statements show that he has no remorse and is a threat to young children.

"That just boggles my mind," Condon said. "It is my opinion that you have a significant problem, and that other 4-year-olds have a significant problem (around you). What I'm about to do is necessary for the protection of the public."

Cooke pleaded guilty in October to one count of aggravated criminal sexual abuse stemming from allegations he fondled the girl in the summer of 2003 while he was visiting family in Lake in the Hills. The girl was not a family member.

Although indicted in January 2004, Cooke refused extradition back to the United States, setting up a 3 1/2-year legal battle than ended when a Canadian court in June denied his final appeal. Cooke surrendered to American authorities shortly after the ruling.

The girl's mother read a statement before Cooke's sentencing saying that both her daughter and her entire family continue to suffer as a result of the former preacher's actions. The girl, she said, has gotten into trouble at school for acting out sexually and has difficult making friends.

"She has stated on many occasions she is a bad person and wishes she had never been born," the girl's mother said. "You can't imagine how hard it is to hear that from your own child.

"This crime has been an emotional and psychological drain on my entire family and I don't see any end in sight for us."

County prosecutors had asked for the maximum seven-year sentence for Cooke, calling his remarks "disgusting and despicable."

"It's sickening and shows this court the defendant is not taking any responsibility for his actions," Assistant McHenry County State's Attorney Sharyl Eisenstein said.

Cooke likely will receive day-for-day credit while imprisoned, meaning he could receive parole in 18 months or less.