2001 Murder Case Returns To County Grand Jury

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The Gila County grand jury again has the task of deciding whether Kevan Kuhlman, 41, should be charged with first-degree murder in the 2001 death of Payson resident, Susan Birchak.

Kuhlman, who has been in police custody since October 2001, was served with four warrants Friday, Aug. 26:

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Kevan Kuhlman

  • First-degree murder for Birchak's death, with a $1 million bond;
  • Probation violation for assault with physical injury out of Mesa Police Department, with a bond of $500;
  • Contempt of court, issuing a bad check, out of Pinal County Sheriff's Office, Florence, with a bond of $183; and
  • Failure to appear, assault, out of Pinal County Sheriff's Office, Florence, with a bond of $247.

Kuhlman was initially indicted Oct. 17, 2001. In February 2003, he pleaded guilty to second-degree murder.

Then in October of that year Kuhlman sought to have the plea overturned, based on his assertion that he did not understand the agreement which mandated he serve every day of his 20-year sentence.

"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," Daisy Flores, Gila County attorney said.

Superior Court Judge Robert Duber supported Kuhlman's claim and overturned the plea agreement in December 2004. Superior Court Judge Peter Cahill remanded the case to the grand jury.

"We asked the court of appeals to review the decision, but it declined," Flores said.

Kuhlman was arrested by the Payson Police Department on Oct. 9 for the murder of Birchak, 52. Police and fire departments were called to Birchak's residence in the 1500 block of North Easy Street following a 911 call from Kuhlman who reported that Birchak was not breathing.

When the police and paramedics arrived, they found Birchak dead on the floor in the family room.

An autopsy the following day showed that Birchak died of strangulation.

Birchak, a longtime resident of Payson, was the station manager of TV 7 and worked with KMOG radio. Her voice was often heard on many of the station's commercials. She was also a familiar face at the Payson Town Council meetings as she broadcast its meetings live on television.

Flores said Kuhlman's grand-jury hearing had not yet been scheduled.

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