By Joel Warner
By Michael Roberts
By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
The Kochevar family has always been close. Even after her son Mike left for Colorado State University this past August, Beth Kochevar still counted on hearing from him every day. So when she didn't speak with him at all in the first few days of October, she grew concerned.
"Mike wasn't returning my calls," Beth remembers. "I kept calling and leaving messages. Finally, I called early on Sunday morning, because I figured that was a time he definitely would be in his room. His roommate answered the phone. I asked him where Mike was, and he said, 'I can't talk about it.'
"So then I called security, and they did what's called a 'well-student check.' About thirty minutes later, a Lieutenant Swenson from the campus police called me back and said Mike was in trouble, and it was serious, and that he was being investigated for a crime. He wouldn't tell me anything else, so finally I said, 'Is he in jail?' and he told me no. It was a mother's nightmare. Eventually he told me to try calling the Delta House, Mike's fraternity. He was there, and I asked, 'What's going on?' And he told me."
Mike had been accused of raping another student.
Beth is the mother of a daughter, too, and so when her son told her this, she wasn't at all certain what to think or how to feel. She passed through all the stages of grieving within a matter of hours. "My first reaction was, 'Oh, my God, you need help,'" she recalls. "I thought, 'How could you do this?'" But then she thought again about her son and wondered: Does he need a lawyer? A therapist? What do I have to do to get him some help?
Being a single parent has made Beth a chronic worrier, particularly when it comes to her son. And she began to worry all the details of the alleged rape out of Mike. The more she heard, the more confused she became. If what Mike said was true, this "rape" was a very different crime from the definition she'd grown up with.
Beth is not a prude -- "I grew up in the era of hot pants," she says -- but she didn't know what to make of this situation. The young woman accusing her son of a forcible sexual attack was one of his best friends at CSU. On the night in question, she'd gone to bed with him -- in fact, it had been her idea. And it wasn't the first time that the two students had shared a bed: They'd slept together a half-dozen times before. On this particular night, the girl had undressed, crawled into bed with Mike -- and an hour later accused her son of rape.
Beth has always believed that consequences need to follow actions, and she has tried to teach that to her children. A few years ago, when Mike was working at a store in a Westminster mall, some of his football buddies stopped by. Knowing that a friendly face was watching, several of them winked at Mike as they walked out wearing new shoes -- shoes they hadn't paid for. Mike didn't report the theft, but a security camera picked up the crime. When Beth found out about it, she made sure that Mike worked three jobs to cover the debt. Eventually, he repaid the store $1,500.
Now Beth wondered if she really knew her son. She found her unconditional love for him running up against her belief in right and wrong. "If he did do it," she remembers thinking, "I didn't want to say, 'I believe you' and then stand by him blindly and get suckered in. For me, it was critical that I get the truth so I could respond in the right way. He kept asking, 'Do you believe me?' And I wouldn't say yes or no."
Mike is big, about 6' 1", a very solid 180 pounds. His body has lost some of the thickness it had when he captained Pomona High School's varsity football team as a linebacker last year; he has since attained a different kind of fitness.
After his last football season ended, a friend dared Mike to show up for cheerleading practice, and he liked it. He also was good at it. And because so few men participated in cheerleading, Mike found himself in demand when it came time to apply to colleges. So in August, he joined CSU's cheerleading squad, one of nine young men on a team made up mostly of women.
For Mike, one of the oddest aspects of the whole mess in which he's found himself is that it involves a woman. "I grew up with women," he says. "That's who I know and who I most hold in regard: my mom, my sister and my grandma."
The only man in his life walked out when Mike was just a few weeks old. Although Mike never knew his father when he was growing up and was a teenager before he finally met him, his father has nevertheless exerted a powerful influence on him, defining him like an invisible current. "I always wanted to be better than him," Mike says. "I am who I am because of my dad -- not so much of what he did do, but because of what he didn't do. I was going to be better."