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updated: 5/9/2011 3:06 PM

Relatives fight to take girl beaten in St. Charles hotel

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  • Molly Koch, shown here last summer, was the victim of a severe beating in October 2010 in St. Charles, police said. Now a court is considering who should have custody of the little girl.

    Molly Koch, shown here last summer, was the victim of a severe beating in October 2010 in St. Charles, police said. Now a court is considering who should have custody of the little girl.
    Courtesy of Carrie Johnson

  • Carrie Johnson, grandmother of Molly Koch, talks about her granddaughter. Johnson is hoping a Kane County judge grants her visitation, at a minimum, with the girl.

      Carrie Johnson, grandmother of Molly Koch, talks about her granddaughter. Johnson is hoping a Kane County judge grants her visitation, at a minimum, with the girl.
    Laura Stoecker | Staff Photographer

 
 

The long process of determining the best home and future for a girl found beaten nearly to death in a St. Charles hotel last fall began last week in a Kane County courtroom closed to the public.

Like many such cases, finding that best environment may prove tricky because neither of her biological parents have mistake-free pasts.

Molly Koch was 2 years old when St. Charles police and emergency personnel found her unconscious, severely beaten and not breathing at a Super 8 hotel. An investigation led to the arrest of her mother, Cathleen Koch, and her mother's boyfriend, James C. Cooper.

Cooper, who police believe Cooper subjected Molly to the beating that nearly took her life, faces charges of aggravated battery to a child and three counts endangering the life or health of a child.

Cathleen Koch faces similar charges and six additional obstruction of justice counts that claim she lied to investigators about what happened.

Since then, Molly's maternal grandmother, Carrie Johnson of Elgin, is the only family member speaking publicly about those events and the girl's future. Last Tuesday, she had to keep those thoughts to herself in a courthouse hallway while a judge listened to an update on the case.

Johnson hasn't seen her granddaughter in more than two months. When she last saw her, Molly was in Children's Memorial Hospital awaiting replacement of a portion of her skull that was removed because of severe brain swelling. Shortly after, the Department of Children and Family Services took Molly into protective custody, shutting Johnson out of her granddaughter's recovery.

It's a reality of the process she's fought ever since.

"We've basically been told we have no rights because we're only grandparents," Johnson said.

Johnson totes around a bundle of letters from neighbors attesting that Molly spent most of the year before the alleged hotel beating living at her home. The stable environment she provided for Molly should be enough to at least grant her supervised visitation with while she recovers, Johnson believes.

She met last week with representatives looking out for Molly's care, including Easter Seals and CASA of Kane County, to try and arrange a visit.

"They tell me she's safe and she's doing fine, but when you love someone you want to see for yourself and put your arms around them," Johnson said. "Aunts, uncles and grandparents out there need to know that they have relatives they love that could be gone the next day ... and they really can't do anything about it because they aren't the parents."

Cathleen Koch is out on bond. During a court appearance last week, defense attorney Liz Lovig asked Judge Timothy Sheldon to modify her bond -- which prohibits contact with Molly -- so she can visit her daughter at the discretion of DCFS. Sheldon will hear arguments on the request June 10.

Molly's father, David R. Koch, 32, of Plano, is one of the parties seeking custody. But like Molly's mother, David Koch also has a legal past for the court to consider.

Kendall County records show arrests for DUI and reckless driving, and a domestic battery conviction where the mother of his other daughter told police Koch punched her in the face with his fist.

Cathleen Koch also filed a police report in Plano against him, alleging that he threatened to kill her following an argument at a tavern. David Koch denied the threats and Cathleen Koch never pursued charges.

In his only response to interview requests, David Koch said he's been advised not to answer any questions. His attorney did not respond to an interview request.

DCFS Spokesman Kendall Marlowe said he is legally prohibited from discussing any details of the case because of Molly's privacy rights. That includes where she is living, what kind of treatment, if any, she is receiving, and who is allowed to visit her and why.

Marlowe emphasized that DCFS won't decide where Molly should live. The agency merely makes a recommendation and it's up to a judge to make the final decision.

But such recommendations can play a major role for Molly and thousands of children who go through the courts when they become victims of abuse or neglect.

CASA of Kane County serves as Molly's court appointed special advocate throughout the process, which can take two years or longer.

CASA's statistics show 99 percent of the recommendations its advocates make regarding where a child should be placed are accepted by the judge. That results in children being returned home to their parent or parents about 20 percent of the time.

Deb McQuaid, director of advocate education for CASA of Kane County, couldn't speak about Molly's case directly, but said all advocates receive intense training about what factors to consider when making that critical recommendation. That includes interviewing therapists, doctors, teachers and anyone significantly involved in the child's life.

For the first year of the process, biological parents are given every opportunity to address issues that led to the abuse or neglect so they can be reunited with their child, McQuaid said.

"Our courtroom's goal is reunification," she said. "We want the parents to correct the situation. The child's identity is with their biological family. If the parents are not making efforts and progress to correct the situation, then we may make a different recommendation."

CASA may recommend specific evaluation of a parent, but it's up to DCFS, Catholic Charities or whichever agency that is assigned the case to provide the actual rehabilitation method to the parents.

"Our job is to provide a third-party objective opinion," McQuaid said. "We're not going to make a recommendation that's bad for the child."

• Daily Herald staff writers Susan Sarkauskas and Harry Hitzeman contributed to this story.

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