As one of two former prosecutors in the 1995 murder trial of then-police Sgt. James Kulbicki ("Ex-Baltimore Police sergeant granted new trial in murder of mistress," Aug. 27), I was outraged and incredulous to learn that the Court of Appeals of Maryland has, for the second time, reversed the conviction of a man who was tied by overwhelming evidence to the senseless and brutal execution of an innocent, young woman more than 19 years ago. Two juries have already found that on January 9, 1993, Gina Nueslein, just 22 years old at the time, was shot in the head by Sgt. Kulbicki for daring to ask him to provide child support for their 18-month old son. Evidence showed the police veteran abducted Nueslein and, as she sat in his pick-up truck, placed the barrel of his gun against her head and pulled the trigger. He then drove to Gunpowder Falls State Park and unceremoniously dumped her body near the trash containers inside the park.
Mr. Kulbicki, who was 36 years old and the married father of an 11-year-old son at the time, had engaged in an on-again, off-again extra-marital affair with Gina Nueslein, court records show. The relationship resulted in two pregnancies and lasted two years. Nueslein, who had recently ended the relationship, filed for child support. She was murdered just two days before a hearing for support of the child fathered by Mr. Kulbicki. Throughout the investigation, Mr. Kulbicki repeatedly lied to homicide detectives, denying ever having had a sexual relationship with Nueslein, despite a paternity test confirming that he was, in fact, the father of her son.
The evidence is profound: blood, consistent with Nueslein's blood, was found on Mr. Kulbicki's jacket and in his truck; bone fragments, found in Mr. Kulbicki's truck, were consistent with Nueslein's DNA; a large piece of human skull, also found in Mr. Kulbicki's truck, contained lead and revealed markings consistent with a contact gunshot wound. Finally, a witness testified that she had seen a person fitting the description of Mr. Kulbicki, driving a truck like the one Mr. Kulbicki owned, in the area where Nueslein's body had been dumped. This witness later identified Mr. Kulbicki as the person driving the truck. The trial transcript reveals this overwhelming evidence — and much more.
Last week, on Aug. 27, more than 19 years after the trial, the Maryland Court of Appeals ruled that Mr. Kulbicki's lawyers were "ineffective" because they failed to exercise due diligence in finding a research paper co-authored four years earlier by FBI Agent Ernest Peale, a forensic expert. The Court of Appeals concluded that this research paper could have been helpful to the defense in their cross-examination. However, in a dissent written by three of the seven appellate judges, it was noted that the research paper in question may not have been available outside of the FBI, even to "the most diligent researchers," and even if found would have had questionable value. Agent Peele had testified at the trial that the bullet fragments from Nueslein's brain and the fragments from Mr. Kulbicki's truck were "analytically indistinguishable." That's it. That's the sole reason four of the seven judges from Maryland's highest court decided — after 19 years — to overturn the conviction of a man whose vicious actions took the life of an innocent, young woman. In making this conclusion, the court parsed out one piece of forensic evidence from a myriad of reliable, credible, persuasive evidence introduced throughout the trial. Even the three dissenting judges, who refer to the evidence as compelling, are critical of the majority in making "no effort to consider the testimony, exhibits, and other forensic evidence that tied Mr. Kulbicki to the crime."
Now, despite the mountain of this compelling evidence presented so many years ago, prosecutors are left explaining to the family of Gina Nueslein why these judges chose to dredge up the details of such a horrific crime and grant this man already convicted of cold-blooded murder a third trial. At some point there must be closure. The justice system was created to protect and serve our citizens. It guarantees all persons accused of a crime a fair and impartial trial. Not necessarily a perfect trial, but one in which the verdict is reliable and based upon the evidence presented.
Perhaps, at least in this particular case, the words of 19th century American lawyer and statesman Clarence Darrow captures it best: "There is no such thing as justice — in or out of court." In the case of Gina Nueslein and her family, this sentiment certainly rings true.
James O'Conor Gentry, Jr. served as an assistant state's attorney for Baltimore County for 22 years and is currently an attorney with the Baltimore law firm of Salsbury, Clements, Bekman, Marder & Adkins, LLC. His email is email@example.com.