By MICHELE D. SNIPE
YORK, S.C. -- High on acid, pot and alcohol, teen-agers
Gerald ``Rocky'' Starnes and Gary Allen Corbett and
their 15-year-old friend were sitting around a
campfire sniffing gasoline in rural Catawba in York
They were behind Starnes' grandmother's house and
their friend, Johnny Richard Cochran III, was
getting too loud. They were afraid of getting into
trouble with the grandmother, who was asleep
So the two devised a plan to bash Johnny in the head
with a brick and bury his body.
Now, they're going to prison.
Starnes and Corbett, both 17, pleaded guilty to
murder Friday. Judge Lee Alford sentenced them to
Johnny, who was hyperactive and had trouble
making friends, had recently moved to Rock Hill
from Buffalo, N.Y., and befriended the pair.
``When he finally found two friends his own age, we
were happy,'' Johnny's father wrote in a letter that
16th Circuit Solicitor Tommy Pope read in court. ``A
month and a half later, he was dead.''
According to York County sheriff's Lt. Tim Hagar's
testimony, this is what happened shortly after 3 a.m.
As they were around the fire, Starnes told Corbett
he would cough as the signal to hit Johnny in the
head with a brick. Then the pair planned to bury the
Starnes coughed and then Corbett struck Johnny
with a brick and Starnes followed with a concrete
block. But the injured teen came to and started
thrashing, so Corbett got a black plastic bag from his
truck and pulled it over Johnny's head. Then
Corbett stood on Cochran's neck until he stopped
When Starnes and Corbett couldn't find a shovel to
dig Johnny's grave, they decided to dump him into
the pond. But first, they took off Johnny's pants,
stole his wallet, then tied a cement block around his
Later that day, they watched the Denver Broncos
defeat the Atlanta Falcons in the Super Bowl and
then they went to check on the body. It had floated
to the surface close to the edge because it wasn't far
enough into the middle of the pond. They got in and
pushed it out until it sank, according to testimony.
The following week, they told friends what they had
done and the rumors spread through Rock Hill High,
where Corbett and Johnny were students. Sheriff's
detectives started investigating.
Johnny, who was an avid fan of football, swimming
and stock car racing, had been missing for a week
before his body was found. He had run away from
home twice before and was not reported missing,
York County Sheriff Bruce Bryant said after the
body was found Feb. 5.
His relatives are scattered in several states. They did
not want to attend the hearing Friday because of the
bad memories it would evoke, Johnny's father said
in the letter.
``When I close my eyes, I want to remember good
things about John, not the two monsters who took
his life,'' he wrote. He has since moved to Myrtle
Neither Corbett nor Starnes has criminal records,
Corbett's teachers wrote letters on his behalf and
described him as quiet, polite and a follower. His
only disciplinary problem, a former assistant
principal wrote, was smoking on school grounds.
``I still find it hard to believe that this has come
from my son,'' Corbett's stepmother, Rhonda, told
the court as he cried quietly beside her. ``He had a
Corbett said: ``Jesus has forgiven me, I just ask that
they (the Cochran family) forgive me.''
His attorney, Public Defender Harry Dest, said the
drugs impaired Corbett's sense of reality and
distorted any kind of rational thought.
Starnes, who stopped school after 10th grade, was
working at Arby's and at a golf course. He had been
hospitalized at the former Charter Pines and
medicated for depression twice before. He said
through his attorney Paul Knox that he was sorry
for what he did.
Starnes' father, Robert, simply told the court: ``I'm
asking for mercy.''
The teens were sentenced to 40 years for murder, 20
years for robbery and five years for criminal
conspiracy, all to run at the same time as the murder
sentence. They could have gotten a life sentence, and
will have to serve at least 85 percent of their
sentences before they can be paroled, Pope said.
By then, they will be 51.
``I don't see much difference between 40 years and
life,'' Starnes' father said.
Reach Michele D. Snipe at (803) 327-8511 or e-mail
Gary Allen Corbett, 17 (left), cries as he and Gerald
``Rocky'' Starnes, also 17 (right), plead guilty Friday
to killing their friend, Johnny Richard Cochran III,
last January. Corbett's attorney, Harry Dest, stands