by Charlene Hunt
roundup staff reporter
Payson Police received a 911 call at 10:09 p.m., Tuesday, Oct. 9, from Kevan Kuhlman, 37, reporting that his roommate, Susan Birchack, 52, was not breathing.
When the police and paramedics arrived, they found Birchack dead on the floor in the family room.
"She had obvious signs of blunt trauma to her head," Payson Police Chief Gordon Gartner said. "Kuhlman told officers he did not know how she was hurt or who did it."
Payson's criminal investigators took over the scene and obtained a search warrant for the residence to gather evidence.
Kuhlman was arrested at the police department following an interview with detectives. He was booked into the Gila County jail for second-degree murder and three outstanding misdemeanor warrants out of Pinal County, Mesa Justice Court and Payson Police Department.
"He was interviewed twice and there are inconsistencies in his statement with the information we have obtained." Gartner said.
Birchack's body was transported to the Pima County Medical Examiners office for an autopsy Wednesday.
"The findings were that she died as a result of homicide," Gartner said. "There was blunt force injury to her face and she died from strangulation."
As a result of the autopsy findings, investigators returned to the residence Wednesday night, which they had maintained security on, and obtained additional evidence.
"The determination as to what she was strangled with is still under investigation," Gartner said. "We have seized a vacuum cleaner hose that has markings that appear to be consistent with the markings on her neck."
The police department is continuing its investigation.
"We are in the process of gathering background on him regarding any past allegations of this nature," Gartner said.
The Roundup obtained information through the Pinal County Sheriff's Department that Kuhlman was arrested for assault/domestic violence March 13, 2000. They also responded to a call regarding a suicide attempt by Kuhlman June 3, 2000. Kuhlman also was taken into custody by Mesa police May 17, 2001 for assault/domestic violence.
Following the findings of the autopsy, the police department filed a complaint of first-degree murder in the justice court against Kuhlman.
Second-degree murder is without premeditation. First-degree murder is premeditated, more severe and is punishable by death.
According to Jim Hazel, Gila County Attorney, his office expects to take the case to grand jury next week.
Bond for Kuhlman was set at $1 million.
Birchack, a longtime resident of Payson was the station manager of TV 7 and worked closely with KMOG radio. Her voice was heard on many of the station's commercials. She was also a familiar face at Payson Town Council meetings which she filmed for a live television broadcast.