In court Thursday for the sentencing of her one-time teacher, a 14-year-old girl recounted how she once liked and admired William Kuhn.
“He was a fantastic teacher who challenged band students,” the student said of the former Kenmore Middle School teacher and band director.
But Kuhn broke the law and violated the trust of students, their parents and the community when he sent one or two photos of his genitalia to her via cellphone.
“I trusted him as a teacher. I regret now that I thought he could be trusted,” she told Erie County Judge Kenneth F. Case in court.
What happened between the two turned her life into a nightmare, she said.
“I wake up every morning wanting to go back to sleep forever,” she said.
The tearful student stopped a couple of times to compose herself during her victim-impact statement to the court.
Kuhn, 42, who pleaded guilty in July to disseminating indecent material to a minor, was sentenced to six months in jail and five years’ probation.
Case imposed jail and the long probation, which the teenager’s family requested, after hearing the student describe in court the devastating impact the crime has had on her and her family.
She said she knew Kuhn as her band teacher since sixth grade, when she was 12 years old, and they shared a love of music.
She said that by seventh grade, they were texting each other daily, and he expressed his feelings for her. She said he bought up sex, and the texting eventually developed into sexting.
“He told me what he would do to me and I would do to him,” she said.
After he sent the photo of his genitalia, he asked her to send him a photo of herself topless, she said.
“He said I owed him,” she said.
The teenager said she sent him such a photo, something she said she will always regret.
“He said he would never leave me alone,” she told the judge.
She said she felt disgust toward him for manipulating her. His behavior struck her as wrong because he had a wife and family and she was his student. She said it also took a toll on her and her family.
“Two years, that’s how long he wasted my time,” she said.
While her life has been getting better recently thanks to her friends and family, she said she still suffers breakdowns and nightmares. She changed school districts.
She asked the judge to sentence the former teacher to jail followed by probation.
Before he was sentenced, Kuhn apologized to the victim, her family, his family and the Kenmore-Town of Tonawanda School District where he taught for 18 years before resigning and surrendering his teacher’s license.
“I take full responsibility for my actions, and I’m extremely remorseful and regret what I have done,” he told the judge.
Defense lawyer Michael Ingham said Kuhn has sold his home and moved his family thousands of miles away to start a new career that involves no contact with children and a smaller salary.
He called the crime an isolated one for Kuhn, noting his client had never before been arrested and that one of his fellow teachers described him as respected by his colleagues and students. Nor did the crime include any physical component with the victim, “just communication, very inappropriate communication,” Ingham said.
He added that Kuhn realizes the devastating impact his conduct has had on the victim and her family and that he has been undergoing psychiatric evaluation.
The judge said Kuhn violated the trust between teachers, students and parents.
“Teachers are like superstars to our children, almost bigger than life,” Case said. “We as parents entrust them with the care of our children.”
“You betrayed the trust of the parents and of this student who looked up to you,” he told the defendant. “You betrayed the trust of your fellow teachers.”
He chided Kuhn for taking advantage of the situation.
“All of the attributes that made you a favored teacher were the same attributes that allowed you to manipulate this student when she was 12, 13 and 14,” Case said.
“You were the adult, and she was the child. To send pictures of your genitalia to her after two years of manipulating her, you’re the one to blame for what happened.”
He said he was imposing five years of probation to ensure that Kuhn would be monitored after his release from jail. He also imposed an eight-year order of protection.
In order to impose the maximum probation term, the judge could not give Kuhn more than a six-month jail term.
The maximum possible prison sentence was 1∑ to four years.
Rosanne E. Johnson, chief of the Special Victims Bureau of the Erie County District Attorney’s Office, called Kuhn’s conduct “an egregious breach of trust by a person three times the age” of his victim.
She said the victim was “a strong, courageous young woman who is here with the support of her family” to request the split sentence of jail and probation.
She said she found it disturbing that Kuhn has offered no explanation “why he crossed the boundary in the teacher-student relationship.”