ST. TAMMANY PARISH -- The man accused of raping a 16-year-old girl who later took her own life in 2016 pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor carnal knowledge of a juvenile charge in St Tammany Parish District Court Thursday.
Blake Cowell, 21, will serve one year of unsupervised probation and must pay $1,000 fine.
"What he was charged with, what Mr. Cowell was charged with, was the maximum the DA's office felt comfortable charging him with because the Sheriff's Office failed to provide them with sufficient information to charge him with anything more," said Tim Phares, Jr. outside of court.
As we first reported in a joint WWL-TV/New Orleans Advocate investigative report, the Phares family has questioned why St Tammany Parish Sheriff's investigators didn't do more to investigate the case in the final six months of Amelia Phares' life.
By pleading guilty Thursday, Cowell admitted to having sex with Phares. He was 18 at the time.
Records show Phares reported to deputies she had been raped in a truck parked near the Versailles Estates pool in Covington by an 18-year-old man her friend knew.
She committed suicide six months later.
"We did everything we could to help Amelia cope with what happened. In the end it was too much for her," Phares told Cowell in a victim impact statement made in court Thursday.
Family members said detectives were still waiting on DNA results a year-and-a-half after Phares reported the incident to police, leading them to question whether investigators were dragging their feet.
Phares told the judge Thursday he believes Amelia might still be alive if Cowell had been arrested the night it happened.
"If she had seen that the justice system was working for her to help her rather than help him, or protect her rather than protect him, then she would've fought this battle all the way to its end," he said.
Cowell entered into a plea that allows him to get the conviction expunged after he completes his probation.
Katie Moore can be reached at email@example.com.