DA: Money trail leads to killer of 90-year-old
Cuddy Briskin's expansive generosity made finding his killer last year even more difficult.
That's because, Deputy District Attorney Mark V. Tranquilli said, the 90-year-old furrier from Squirrel Hill happily doled out money or odd jobs to people down on their luck.
He gave contractors cash to fix their vehicles. He gave those who were unemployed work to do.
And for Jason Kuhns, the estranged husband of Mr. Briskin's granddaughter, he provided a truck and a house.
But to Mr. Kuhns, that wasn't enough, Mr. Tranquilli told a jury on Tuesday.
"That man, Jason Eric Kuhns," the prosecutor said, pointing at the defendant, "bit the hand that fed him."
Mr. Kuhns, 36, of Latrobe is on trial this week, accused of beating Mr. Briskin to death with a tire iron on April 4, 2011.
Mr. Briskin, whose wife died just four months before him, was a World War II veteran who landed on D-Day. He took over his father's furrier business when he returned from the war and ran it into the mid-1990s.
His body was discovered two days after the attack, when Mr. Briskin's daughter walked in to his home and saw her father's body in a chair, his face wrapped inside three grocery bags, blood spatter all around him.
Police found the Fernwald Road residence in disarray, Mr. Tranquilli said.
He said it was unclear, however, what part of the mess was caused by the attack and what of it was caused by Mr. Briskin, who had let his housekeeping get out of hand during his wife's lengthy illness. Mr. Tranquilli described him as a hoarder.
The amount of material in the house, coupled with Mr. Briskin's generosity, made investigating the case and narrowing down the suspect list quite difficult, he said.
But police got their first big break in the case about two weeks after Mr. Briskin's body was found.
A detective in the Pittsburgh police pawn unit came across a slip that showed Mr. Kuhns had pawned silver coins the day after Mr. Briskin was killed.
"Twelve hours after Cuddy Briskin breathed his last, Jason Kuhns was on the South Side pawning silver coins that belonged to Cuddy Briskin," Mr. Tranquilli said.
When Mr. Kuhns was then arrested for receiving stolen property, the prosecutor continued, he admitted to killing the victim. He signed each page of notes taken by the detective who interviewed him, Mr. Tranquilli said.
Mr. Kuhns said he pawned other items of Mr. Briskin's at two other pawn shops, and that he did it because he needed money to support his drug habit.
Mr. Kuhns is charged with homicide, robbery, burglary, receiving stolen property and conspiracy.
Defense attorney John Elash on Tuesday told the jury during his opening statement that his client is guilty of receiving stolen property and conspiracy, and that he took Mr. Briskin's coins to get money for drugs.
But he denied Mr. Kuhns killed the man, challenging the prosecution to present any physical evidence to prove its case.
As for his client's confession, Mr. Elash discounted that, too, reciting for the jury a number of high-profile national and international cases that included forced confessions.
To be sure it's a legitimate confession, Mr. Elash asked, why didn't the department record it?
"They don't do that so we're not really sure what was said during or after," he said. "There's no excuse for police not to do that. Then you have no questions. Was he drugged up? Was he pressured? Was he coerced? Was he promised anything?"
As a serious drug addict, Mr. Elash continued, it would be easy for police to get a confession from him.
"They do not have a murder weapon. They do not have any physical evidence to link my client to this case," he said.
Although investigators tested fingerprints and DNA collected from the scene, Mr. Tranquilli said, none of it traced back to Mr. Kuhns.
Still, the prosecutor dismissed the defense contention that the case is a "whodunit."
Instead, Mr. Tranquilli said, "Follow the money."
First Published May 23, 2012 12:00 am