Murder Suspect Changes Plea

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Kevan Deon Kuhlman, the admitted killer of Susan Birchak, entered a Globe courtroom Wednesday and changed his plea from first- to second-degree murder Wednesday a switch that will likely translate into a 16-to-22-year prison term, according to Gila County Attorney Daisy Flores.

“The next step will be sentencing,” Flores said. “Typically, sentencing is four to six weeks (after a plea is entered). Since this a large term of imprisonment, it might be an extended time that (the judge) will allow (defense attorneys) to prepare mitigation information.”

Kuhlman, 37, was arrested by the Payson Police Department on Oct. 9, 2001, for the murder of Birchak, his 52-year-old girlfriend. Police and fire were called to the residence the couple shared in the 1500 block of N. Easy Street following a 911 call from Kuhlman reporting that Birchak was not breathing.

An autopsy performed the following day revealed that Birchak, the program manager for Payson’s TV 7, had died of strangulation.

A week after Birchak’s death, Kuhlman was indicted for one count of first degree murder by a Gila County grand jury.

Kuhlman had faced a probable death sentence until July of this year, when the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated the death-sentencing procedures in at least five states, including Arizona, saying that a jury, not a judge, should determine whether the facts in a murder case warrant a death sentence.

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