Tonawanda News

October 25, 2013

Former teacher sentenced to jail

By Jessica Bagley jessica.bagley@tonawanda-news.com
The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — BUFFALO — A former Kenmore Middle School teacher was sentenced Thursday morning to six months in jail after the now 14-year-old girl described how he exerted his control over her through inappropriate sexual text messages for two years.

“How was I supposed to get out of it? He told me not to tell anyone,” she said. “He has ruined me.”

The incident was initially reported to Town of Tonawanda police in May, and William Kuhn, a teacher and band instructor, was placed on administrative leave.

Kuhn, 42, pleaded guilty in July to second-degree disseminating indecent material to minors, admitting that he sent a picture of his naked genitalia to the student. As part of his plea, he agreed to resign immediately and permanently surrender his teaching license to the New York State Department of Education. 

Although the charge relates to only one photograph, prosecutor Roseanne Johnson said Thursday that the student is a victim of “ongoing, pervasive harm” and that Kuhn subjected her to an inappropriate relationship for years.

“This is a case involving an egregious breach of trust, in which the defendant is three times the age of the juvenile victim,” she said. 

The victim, who has been in counseling and changed school districts, described the extent of her relationship with Kuhn, who she met in 6th grade during band.

“I adored being his student, I trusted him as someone to look up to,” the teen, whose family and friends attended the sentencing for support, said.

Kuhn, formerly of the town, began texting the girl, as he did with many of his students, the victim said.  Although the communication wasn’t unusual at first, they soon began texting daily, and eventually, Kuhn told the girl he had feelings for her.

“He made me feel good about myself,” she said.

The texts between the student and the teacher grew to have a sexual nature, and Kuhn began sending pictures of his genitalia. The victim said she received five or six photographs in total.

“He created an elaborate plan to go to New York City ... he would tell my mother it would be a good experience,” she said. “But all he wanted was sex.”

Kuhn gave the girl birthday presents, and they discussed their love for each other, the victim said.  Eventually, he coerced her into sending an inappropriate picture of herself to Kuhn.

“He said I owed him. I will always regret that and my self worth is very low,” she said. “Even to this day, I have had a hard time believing everything is not my fault.”

The inappropriate relationship began to take a toll on the young girl, whose grades and friendships suffered. After Kuhn tried to kiss her during a ride in the car, the victim told an adult about the incidents.

“I feared getting in trouble. Two years, that’s how long I was forced to hide,” she said, crying. “I was sick of being disgusted by myself. I needed to be able to sleep at night.”

The teen and Johnson asked for a split sentence of jail and probation time Thursday. Defense attorney Michael Ingham argued that his client is extremely remorseful, was a respected teacher and has no other criminal history.

“There was no physical component, no sexual relationship in any way,” he said. “He has already been punished and has relinquished his career. He has sold his home and moved thousands of miles away.”

Ingham argued that jail time would prevent Kuhn from providing for his child and wife, who consoled her husband before the sentencing but stormed out in tears after the victim told the story about his kiss.

After Ingham’s comments, Kuhn apologized for his actions.

“I’m sorry. I just want everybody to know that I take full responsibility for my actions,” he said while weeping openly. “I regret it. It is not in my character.”

Despite Ingham’s request, County Court Judge Kenneth Case ruled that jail time is appropriate for the crimes.

“I think teachers are like superstars to our kids. We trust teachers to be parents when we cannot be there, and you betrayed all of those trusts,” he said, calling Kuhn’s actions “psychological molestation.” 

“To send her pictures of your genitalia after two years of manipulating her ... you are the only one to blame.”

Kuhn was also sentenced to five years of probation upon his release, and an order of protection was issued for eight years. He was taken away in handcuffs.

“I hope this helps you and your family in some small way,” Case told the victim.

Contact reporter Jessica Bagley at 693-1000 ext. 4150, or follow her on Twitter @JessicaLBagley