A Grand Island teacher who was convicted last year of molesting a 7-year-old boy during an outing in Rhode Island was sentenced to prison Wednesday.
Rhode Island Superior Court Judge Dominic Cresto sentenced Robert D. Colling, a former fifth-grade teacher at Kaegebein Elementary School in Grand Island, to five years in prison and 20 years' probation for the 1986 incident.
Colling, 42, of Michigan Avenue, Niagara Falls, was convicted by a Rhode Island Superior Court jury on Oct. 25 of first-degree child molestation.
Colling showed little emotion as the sentence was read, said Jack McMahon, a Rhode Island assistant attorney general.
But when he was denied release on bail pending an appeal, as his attorney had requested, Colling became emotional, McMahon said. Colling was visibly shaken as he hugged acquaintances in the courtroom before being taken away to prison, McMahon said.
"You could see there were tears in his eyes," McMahon said.
Colling's attorney, Joseph Houlihan of Rhode Island, did not dispute McMahon's description.
However, he added: "I don't think he was expecting to be released on bail, so I don't think he would be shook up. He had planned on going to prison."
He said he had advised him that normally a conviction on a crime of this nature carries a prison sentence.
Houlihan said that this type of crime normally carries a nine or 10 year prison term, so that the five-year term probably isn't excessive.
But with a client who "maintains his innocence, any sentence would be excessive," he said.
The attorney said he has 20 days to decide if the case will be appealed. Houlihan said he would ask that bail be set if he files notice of appeal.
Colling was accused of molesting a Grand Island boy in an East Matunuck cottage during a trip to Rhode Island Aug. 22, 1986.
McMahon said the case was especially troubling because Cresto received 175 letters from students, parents and colleagues in support of Colling. Many called him one of the area's finest teachers and some said the 19-year teaching veteran could not have committed the crime.
"I mentioned (to Judge Cresto) it was a very troubling case, because the guy had over 175 letters come in," McMahon said, "most of which said what a wonderful teacher he had been." But McMahon said Cresto felt the severity of the crime merited serious punishment, despite Colling's reputation in Grand Island.
"It's a tragedy all around," McMahon said. "And it's a tragedy that's still ongoing. When someone with his type of talent wastes it . . . "
Colling had been on paid leave since the incident was reported in 1986. Last November, following his conviction, the Grand Island School Board accepted his resignation.
Although Colling had not been in the classroom for more than three years, he had apparently continued to take Grand Island students on trips, according to McMahon.
At least one Grand Island boy who testified at Colling's trial told authorities outside the court proceedings that Colling has taken other students on outings to Toronto and Allegany County after the Rhode Island trip, McMahon said.