Sean D. Hamill
After a grand jury refused to return a criminal indictment against former Streamwood High School English teacher Dawn M. Kohn, Kane County prosecutors decided recently to drop three charges that claimed she had a sexual relationship with one of her former students. Kohn, 40, of Burlington, was charged Nov. 29 2000, with criminal sexual assault, sexual exploitation of a child and official misconduct.
The charges stemmed from accusations from one of Kohn's former Streamwood students, who is now an adult, who said that Kohn began a sexual relationship with her in February 1998 when the student was 16 years old. As they typically do, after Kohn was formally charged, Kane County prosecutors asked a grand jury to return an indictment in the case sometime in December or January .
But after hearing the evidence in the case, the grand jury refused to return a "true bill" indictment, declaring that there was not probable cause to believe Kohn committed the crimes with which she was charged, said Assistant Kane county State's Attorney Joe Cullen.
An indictment would have allowed prosecutors to avoid a preliminary hearing, during which a judge, instead of a grand jury made up of citizens, would have determined if there was enough evidence in the case to move forward with the charges.
Prosecutors continued the preliminary hearing several times since the grand jury declined to indict Kohn, and the case was supposed to come up for that hearing on Feb. 22.
But a week earlier, on Feb. 16, prosecutors instead dropped the charges against Kohn, after first carefully reviewing the evidence, Cullen said.
He said he could not speculate on why the grand jury refused to return an indictment. But he did say that a leading reason prosecutors didn't go forward with a preliminary hearing was because of the grand jury's finding.
"If there wasn't enough evidence to prove at the lower standard of probable cause we don't believe we could have proved it 'beyond a reasonable doubt' at trial" Cullen said. "Besides, a grand jury gives us some insight into how a (trial) jury might react to evidence."
Cullen said the charges will not be refiled.
Kohn's defense attorney, was not sure why the grand jury didn't return an indictment either, but said, " Maybe they just didn't believe" the former student.
As for why prosecutors didn't go to a preliminary hearing instead, Kohn would have been present and would have been able to bring her attorney with her to cross-examine prosecution witnesses and put on her own witnesses.
Kohn was originally charged in the case after the Kane County Sheriff's Office investigated the former student's accusations, but also after Elgin Area School District U-46 had investigated the claims itself and decided there was nothing to them.
Larry Ascough, spokesman for U-46, said prosecutors' decision to drop the charges doesn't necessarily justify the district's original finding , because the school district had different rules to under which to investigate.
"But the bottom line is, we did conduct our own review and we didn't find any reason to warrant action," Ascough said.
The former student was in Kohn's English class and later became one of Kohn's class helpers. At various times Kohn accompanied the student to non-school functions and invited the student to her Burlington home where investigators said the sexual relationship took place.
The relationship began when the student was 16 and continued for three years, though the charges only pertained to the time the student was 16 and not able to consent to a sexual relationship under state law.
Kohn had resigned from her teaching job in U-46 just before the beginning of this school year, but Ascough has said that she was not pressured to resign.
Kohn, who was well- liked in the district, now runs an Internet business out of her home