He 'freaked out' when 90-year-old man was in house
April 24, 2011 4:00 AM
Jason Eric Kuhns
By Rich Lord Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Trying to extend his drug binge and "freaked ... out" that his estranged wife's grandfather was unexpectedly at home, Jason Eric Kuhns took a tire iron to 90-year-old Cuddy Briskin, according to a police account of the accused killer's confession released Saturday.
Mr. Kuhns, 35 and of Brentwood, had an eight-year history of involvement in crimes, pleading guilty to forgery, criminal conspiracy, drug possession, receiving stolen property, theft, and repeated thefts from vehicles, according to court records. Now he faces charges of homicide, burglary and robbery in connection with a crime that shocked a quiet part of Squirrel Hill.
Mr. Kuhns was arrested and brought to city police headquarters Friday afternoon, after the paper trail from recent sales of Mr. Briskin's valuable coins led to him. He told police that he was a former intravenous heroin addict who quit that only to get hooked on crack cocaine and the anti-seizure drug clonazepam, also known as Klonopin.
On April 4, he and an unnamed girlfriend went on a binge, smoking crack and taking clonazepam and the sedative benzodiazepine "like candy," according to the police criminal complaint. When they ran out of money for crack, Mr. Kuhns decided to burglarize Mr. Briskin's Fernwald Road home, the complaint said.
He thought his wife's grandfather would be out for dinner, as he usually was on Monday evenings, it said. He brought the tire iron in case he needed it to force open doors, but found the doors unlocked. Nonetheless, he was surprised to find Mr. Briskin sitting in a chair in his living room.
"Cuddy turned around and looked Kuhns right in the face," Pittsburgh police Detective Margaret Sherwood wrote. "Kuhns stated that this freaked him out and he became extremely scared. Kuhns used the tire bar to strike Cuddy in the head several times."
When he "couldn't stand to look at Cuddy's face," Detective Sherwood wrote, Mr. Kuhns put three blue plastic bags over it, without checking whether he was still alive. The time of death was eventually estimated at around midnight, April 5.
Mr. Kuhns then ran upstairs and ransacked the house, finding "several cases of silver coins and numerous gold coins," according to the complaint. He went out the back door, ditched the tire iron while driving out of the neighborhood, and "went and 'copped' more crack," Detective Sherwood wrote.
He later sold 67 silver coins, worth about $11,500, for $1,013 at South Side Jewelers, whose owner provided police with the information used to find Mr. Kuhns, the complaint said. He later sold gold coins elsewhere for about $2,000, it said.
Mr. Briskin had been living alone since the December death of his wife of 68 years, Ethel. A family spokesman, nephew Ken Briskin, said family members weren't ready to comment about the arrest.
The Briskins were a quiet couple who mostly kept to themselves, said neighbors.
"I sort of thought that it was a targeted, as opposed to a random, crime," said Anne McDonough, who lived next door to Mr. Briskin for the past 25 years. She did not recognize Mr. Kuhns, and other neighbors said they didn't know him, either.
"I feel terrible that this happened to him," added Elyse Wiegman, the Briskin home's other next-door neighbor. "The whole neighborhood does. It's senseless. He had no recourse. He couldn't even fight him off."
She said that one year when her family's Halloween pumpkin was stolen, the Briskins offered her kids their own jack-o-lantern.
Mr. Kuhns was divorced from a prior marriage in 2002. The date of his subsequent marriage to Sarah Kuhns, Mr. Briskin's granddaughter, could not be determined Saturday.
Mr. Kuhns first faced drug charges in 2003, but those were withdrawn. He pleaded guilty in 2004 to forgery and conspiracy, according to court records.
In 2005, he faced a series of charges, including one or more counts of drug possession, receiving stolen property and theft from a motor vehicle, court records show. He drew sentences that could have put him in jail for just short of two years.
The amount of time he served couldn't be determined Saturday. But Mr. Kuhns was out quickly enough to be charged with, and plead guilty to, thefts in 2006 and 2007, again drawing sentences of one to just under two years.
Last year he was charged with burglary and theft, but those charges were dropped.