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New evidence points to the possible sexual assault of a New York lawyer who was found dead at a tropical Club Med resort in 2018, according to court documents released Friday as part of an investigation into the cause of her death.
Marie Kuhnla, a 62-year-old public defender from Suffolk County, New York, died of homicide by manual strangulation while vacationing with two colleagues in the Turks and Caicos Islands in October of that year, the medical examiner ruled after authorities discovered her body in a bush on a remote area of the station.
But a new inquest, a hearing to determine the cause and circumstances of his death in court despite the doctor’s findings, has raised concerns from his family over a possible cover-up as well as the revelation of previously undisclosed evidence to the court.
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“This is obviously really painful and difficult news,” Rick Kuhnla Jr., who witnessed the proceedings virtually, told Fox News Digital. “Seeing the police officer read this information in court was the first time we had heard of it… It just confirms the cover-up. I think it’s undeniable that it was now a police cover-up.”
DNA test results, dated Dec. 7, 2018, were not released until Friday, according to Abe George, an attorney representing the family in a wrongful death lawsuit in the United States. They were based on samples taken between the discovery of his remains on October 16 of that year and October 20, when police collected evidence from a man’s bedroom at the compound.
DNA analysis found semen on Kuhnla’s underwear and male DNA on his bedroom door, but not enough for a match. Kuhnla’s clothes, hands, and groin also showed blood.
“The bottom line is that Club Med and the police have been telling us for years that despite what their own medical examiner found out, this was an accident,” Kuhnla’s son told Fox News Digital. “But the lab report shows blood on almost all of the clothing/personal effects she had in addition to seminal fluid on [her] cheeky.”
He said he had been skeptical of the legitimacy of the investigation until the family’s local attorney, Peter McKnight, had had the opportunity to cross-examine the witnesses, which led to DNA revelation. But he said he remained concerned pending the final outcome of the investigation.
Trevor Botting, the island nation’s police commissioner, said he could not comment until the end of the legal process.
Investigators are responding to a report of a woman’s body being discovered on October 16, 2018, the Royal Turks and Caicos Islands Police said. Two of Kuhnla’s colleagues vacationing with her reported her missing the day before, and she was last seen alive on the 14th with Frank Yacullo Jr., according to police documents, the man in whose room they picked up proofs.
He had spent time with Kuhnla, the documents show, and had been a Club Med employee in the 1990s, according to his family’s civil lawsuit.
The medical examiner, Dr Michael Steckbauer, concluded that his death was a homicide by manual strangulation.
Dr. Steckbauer fiercely defended his findings in court during the inquest and is also a witness in the family’s wrongful death lawsuit.
There was also evidence that she was dumped at the scene and did not walk there herself, according to Ed Dowd, a private investigator working with Kuhnla’s son and widower.
The wrongful death lawsuit, filed in Nassau County, New York, alleges an attempt to conceal the circumstances surrounding Kuhnla’s strangulation, mishandling of his remains and obstruction.
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A Turks and Caicos Islands investigator visited Kuhnla’s widower, Rick Kuhnla Sr., in 2019 and raised the possibility that the woman’s death was an accident, according to George. The family rejected this theory – citing the findings of the official medical examiner and other evidence discovered by Dowd.
The wrongful death lawsuit also names Yacullo as a potential suspect. Police found a woman’s DNA in her bedroom, but it was no match for Kuhnla. He was separately charged with groping one of his friends, released on bail and sent back to the United States. Attempts to reach him for comment were not immediately successful.
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Kuhnla suffered broken ribs, bruised inner thighs and was partially undressed, Dowd told Fox News Digital last week. Even before the DNA report, he said she may have been sexually assaulted before her death and that although she was found 100 yards from her shoes, her feet were free of dirt, brambles or grit. scratches, indicating that she had been transported to the place. and did not walk there herself.
The inquest continued on Monday and will ultimately be handed over to a jury from the Turks and Caicos Islands.
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