CHARLESTON — The circumstances surrounding sex acts between a woman and a teenage boy didn't meet the crimes with which she was charged, a judge said in finding the woman not guilty.
The verdict came in the case against Hilary M. Rawlings, 37, who was accused of engaging in the sex acts with the boy at her Mattoon home during January 2019, when he was 15 years old.
At the end of the two-day trial, Coles County Circuit Judge James Glenn returned not guilty verdicts on charges of criminal sexual assault.
Though Rawlings denied that the sex acts took place, Glenn said he found the boy's claims that they did to be believable.
However, the judge said, there wasn't enough proof of some of other allegations in the charges. He said another criminal charge might have better fit with what happened but Rawlings wasn't charged with that offense.
One of the sexual assault charges against Rawlings accused of her sex acts with the boy when he couldn't consent. Other charges included the allegations that the boy was in a position of authority over him.
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However, Glenn said the evidence showed that, despite the age difference, the teen did understand the acts.
And while the sex acts were said to have occurred in her home, there was also no indication that Rawlings supervised or disciplined the boy, Glenn noted.
The judge said a sexual abuse charge might have applied to Rawlings' case, but she wasn't charged with that offense so he couldn't find her guilty of it.
The offense Glenn mentioned applies to sex acts between a victim younger than 17 and an adult at least five years older.
After the trial, State's Attorney Jesse Danley, who prosecuted the case, said he was "very disappointed" with Glenn's decision.
Danley acknowledged that another charge might have applied to the case but said he thought the sexual assault charges were justified.
The sexual assault charges against Rawlings would have required a prison sentence of four to 15 years had she been convicted. The sexual abuse charge to which Glenn referred can result in a three- to seven-year prison sentence with probation also possible.
Defense attorney Chris Wetzel praised Danley's work on the case but said "there were a couple of different sides to the story."
Rawlings always maintained that the sex acts never took place and repeated that during her trial testimony, he noted. He said Rawlings is "very happy with the outcome" of the trial.
Rawlings opted for a bench trial, allowing the judge to decide the case, instead of a jury trial. Defense attorneys sometimes recommend bench trials in cases in which technical legal issues could affect the outcome.
At the time of her arrest, Rawlings was employed as a nurse with the Eastern Illinois Area of Special Education.
However, the boy was not an EIASE student and the reported crimes did not take place on EIASE time, according to officials with the special education organization.