Convicted killer, Kevan Kuhlman, has won an appeal to overturn a plea agreement that led to his 20-year sentence for the murder of TV 7 Station Manager Susan Birchak.
Although Kuhlman will remain in prison, he was allowed out of the agreement he made with the Gila County Attorney's Office in which he pleaded guilty to second-degree murder.
Kuhlman was indicted by a Gila County Grand Jury on the charge of first-degree murder. A year later, he pleaded guilty to second-degree murder. The plea agreement carried a sentence of up to 23 years in prison.
In February 2003, Superior Court Judge Robert Duber sentenced Kuhlman to 20 years in prison. Gila County Attorney Daisy Flores said the agreement stipulated that Kuhlman serve the entire sentence.
The following year, Flores said Kuhlman filed a post-conviction relief appeal (PCR).
"When a person takes a plea and gets sentenced according to the plea, if, for whatever reason they think there is something unfair about the process, they do what's called a post conviction relief appeal," Flores said.
Flores said Kuhlman said he misunderstood a part of the agreement that mandated him to serve every day of his 20-year sentence without time deducted for good behavior.
"When the plea was entered into and Kuhlman was sentenced, he mistakenly believed he would be entitled to earn good time credits while incarcerated," Flores said. "Kuhlman filed for PCR, alleging that he received a longer sentence than he believed he bargained for. He requested to be allowed to withdraw from the plea."
After considering Kulman's appeal, Duber granted the request.
Flores said this means the status of Kuhlman's case will revert back to before he was convicted.
"We are preparing to go to trial and Kuhlman is facing a first-degree murder charge, rather than what he (pleaded) to which was second-degree murder," Flores said.
Kuhlman, 40, strangled 52-year-old Birchak in Oct. 2001. Kuhlman and Birchak were housemates at the time.
A trial date has been set for March 3, 2005. Flores said her office is not seeking the death penalty at this time.