Lawyers say woman accused in double killing tried to commit suicide

FERNLEY, Nev. (AP) - A judge ordered Erin Kuhn on Wednesday to face two murder charges in the deaths of her pregnant niece and niece's nearly full-term baby despite her lawyers' claims she tried to commit suicide twice in jail and is incompetent.

Prosecutors say the emergency room technician allegedly killed the two June 16 when she cut the baby from the niece's abdomen in a Fernley motel room after the niece backed out of an agreement for Kuhn to adopt the baby.

Kuhn, 31, of Sacramento, told police her niece, Kathaleena Draper, 17, was knocked out in a struggle at the motel 30 miles east of Reno and that she was trying to save the baby's life.

Pathologists testifying on behalf of the prosecution say Draper died from asphyxiation after a rubber glove was stuffed down her throat.

Police arrested Kuhn in Sacramento after the niece's body was discovered June 17 wrapped in a blue shower curtain near Sacramento.

New evidence presented during a preliminary hearing in Fernley Justice Court on Wednesday included testimony from a detective who found two garbage bags along U.S. Highway 95-A south of Fernley, one including the body of the baby.

The other bag contained a serrated knife and a surgical mask and gown that prosecutors suggested Kuhn wore when she allegedly cut open her niece and removed the baby, which was four weeks shy of full term.

''The baby was alive when Erin Kuhn-Brown cut that umbilical cord. When she cut that umbilical cord, she killed that baby,'' said John Schlegelmilch, Lyon County's deputy district attorney.

''We've always charged it was premeditated. She had the equipment with her and she had the clothes,'' he said.

Kuhn occasionally scribbled notes to her lawyers during Wednesday's hearing, then cried and appeared to argue with them after Judge John Ray ordered her bound over to Lyon County District Court on two open murder charges. He set her arraignment for Jan. 8.

''In my estimation, she is not competent and she is not doing well,'' defense lawyer Tod Young said afterward.

Young asked the judge to waive the preliminary hearing and order a competency exam for Kuhn, who he said attempted suicide twice in the county jail in the past week.

He said he did not believe she was competent to assist in her defense, including making a decision whether to testify on her own behalf at the preliminary hearing.

Young said Kuhn previously was taking anti-depression and anti-anxiety medication but is only taking the anti-depression medicine in jail.

''She has a right to attend her preliminary hearing and if she is not competent, it is equivalent to her not being here,'' Young said.

The judge rejected the motion, saying it was a matter to be taken up with the district judge at her trial.

''I've been on the bench 27 years and very rarely have I seen a defendant put on the witness stand at a preliminary hearing,'' Ray said.

Schlegelmilch suggested Kuhn faked the suicide attempts.

''My understanding about the suicide attempts is that she scratched her arm with a light bulb and she wrapped a sheet around her neck and when the deputies entered her cell, she turned around and smiled at them,'' he said.

''I believe she is manipulating the system for the purpose of delaying these hearings,'' he said.

Dr. Curtis Rolling, a medical examiner who performed the autopsy on Draper, said an instrument of some sort likely was used to shove the latex glove several inches down Draper's throat past her vocal cords.

''I don't think it could have been done with a human hand,'' he said.

The coroner was unable to determine an exact cause of death of the baby, although medical experts have testified the baby was healthy and would have survived if it had undergone a typical hospital birth.

''There was no reason that baby should die save for the effects of Erin Kuhn,'' Schlegelmilch said.

Young argued there was no proof the baby was murdered.

''You can't come into court and say 'We don't have any reason for this baby's death, so it's murder.''' he said.

''What you can find is a child died and nobody knows why.''


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