2 teens sentenced to 40 years in
              slaying of a 15-year-old friend

                           By MICHELE D. SNIPE
                                Staff Writer

              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
              40 years.

              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.
              Jan. 31:

              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,
              Pope said.

              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
              tender heart.''

              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
              between them.