PERRY, Okla. -- There is probable cause to believe an 86-year-old teacher's aide preyed on more than 20 fifth-grade girls, a judge ruled Tuesday.
Arnold Cowen will face 21 criminal counts including aggravated possession of child pornography, which carries a maximum penalty of life in prison.
A Noble County judge made the decision after listening to two days of testimony, including accounts from ten girls who were allegedly victimized.
"We had ten children, brave little girls that had to step forward and tell their story in the face of the accuser," said attorney Cameron Spradling, who is representing the families of the victims. "We’re going to move forward. Mr. Cowen, he’s the vampire of this community. And every vampire needs its keeper. And now that we’ve got Mr. Cowen, it’s time to bring the keepers of this vampire to justice."
Cowen volunteered at Perry Upper Elementary School, but Assistant Police Chief Forrest Smith told the court Tuesday he used his position to take advantage of students.
"He would sit next to them," Smith told the court. “He puts his hand on her stomach and then as he continued to talk about the math, he would move his hand up and rub the breast of the child."
Cowen confessed, police said, in interviews at headquarters before he was arrested.
The defense attorney Tuesday tried to cast doubt on Cowen's "serious memory problems," which put his confession in doubt. The attorney also argued the officers had followed the law, wondering if Cowen had been coerced into his confession. Cowen's attorney also wondered why officers had recorded a private conversation between the man and his pastor, after which Cowen produced more details.
The judge, however, decided in the prosecution's favor, dropping only one of the 22 counts. He declined to raise Cowen's bond to $1 million as the prosecution requested, noting the defendant has been cooperative and shown up without issue. Cowen is currently out on $50,000 bond.
Tuesday afternoon, the judge cleared the courtroom to view more than 100 pornographic images and videos found on Cowen's computer.
"I asked him if there's anything on the computer I should be concerned about,” Assistant Chief Smith recalled for the court. “He stated, 'Yes, there's children pictures.' I followed up and asked, 'Do you mean child porn?' He said, 'Yes.'"
Cowen's attorney tried to argue he didn't knowingly possess the images.
Though the judge's decision is satisfying, Spradling told NewsChannel 4 he still wants the school board to take more responsibility in the case. He noted not a single board member had shown up to court.
"For some reason this community has become desensitized and they’re not realizing how serious this is," he said. "Outside of this community the entire state of Oklahoma is looking at this saying, ‘What is going wrong with Perry?’"
Spradling then turned to criticize school staff, whom law enforcement said could have prevented several cases had they simply reported allegations from students.
"We don’t know how many children have been damaged as a result of a failure to report," he said. "The simplest thing in the statute is pick up the phone, believe the child, and let the professionals handle the situation."
Cowen will be arraigned in the next 30 days.