“She came at me with the knife.”
That was the story that Alois Kudlach stuck to throughout his time on the witness stand Friday.
Kudlach is on trial for first- and third-degree murder, aggravated assault, possession of a weapon and interference with communication after the August 2015 shooting of his wife, Nuria, in their College Township home.
Kudlach maintains it was self-defense.
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According to his testimony, he had grown more wary of his wife after an incident in June 2015 in which he claimed his wife had tried to retrieve a handgun from his car. He said he had to “wrestle” the gun away from her.
Kudlach said threats against their son and himself had largely gone unheeded, but after the incident in the car, he had grown fearful of his wife. He said he took the handgun to a safe in the basement but denied putting the gun in the safe, choosing instead to hide it in a nearby box since his wife knew the combination to the safe.
He walked the jury through his recollection of the morning of the shooting, how seeing a knife on the kitchen counter seemed out of place; how a family argument led to her leaving him and his son alone in the living room as she went into the kitchen, so he followed her.
According to Kudlach’s testimony, the argument in the kitchen led to his wife taking the knife and attempting to break a nearby window. She then turned and “came at him,” prompting him to fire the pistol he had retrieved that morning.
On cross-examination, Centre County District Attorney Stacy Parks Miller was quick to latch on to the testimony concerning the window, as it was not part of Kudlach’s statement to the police. He said he hadn’t remembered the event clearly the night he was questioned, but he recalled it the next day.
During defense attorney Karen Muir’s direct examination, Kudlach described his early life with his wife, meeting at Penn State before marrying. He also described his work with the Department of Defense and other agencies, and how the family had to take a $40,000 pay cut when they moved to State College.
The money didn’t matter, though, Kudlach said, saying, “(Family) is the most important thing. Family comes first.”
Kudlach admitted he had spoken to divorce attorneys in 2013 simply to know where he stood should the marriage take that turn. Notes from meetings with divorce attorneys were found in a backpack in the home.
Kudlach also spent some time testifying to the climate of the home in the months leading up to the shooting. He described a home life that was tumultuous, with frequent arguments that involved all family members, including the Kudlachs’ 20-year-old son, Alex.
Muir had previously called a forensic expert, Anita Zannin, to testify to her opinion on the blood evidence found at the scene of the shooting. On Friday, Muir continued along the line of forensics with the appearance of famed pathologist Cyril Wecht.
During his time as a pathologist, Wecht has been involved in several high-profile cases, including the JonBenet Ramsey murder case and his disagreements with findings in the assassination of former President John F. Kennedy.
Wecht said he was contacted by the defense to prepare a report based on the findings in the case, including statements by Kudlach, photos of the scene of the shooting and the autopsy report prepared by Dr. Harry Kamerow.
Wecht testified that he disagreed with the opinion of Kamerow that the final shot to the head that killed Nuria Kudlach was fired at a significant downward angle, indicating that Nuria had been “cowering” or was in some sort of crouched position. He demonstrated to jurors that the distance between the entrance of the bullet and where it was ultimately retrieved showed no significant downward angle.
Wecht also testified that the knife found at the scene — which the prosecution had argued should have had blood on it if it had been held by Nuria Kudlach at the time of the shooting — would not necessarily have blood on it depending on how it was held.
Wecht agreed during cross-examination with Parks Miller that if Nuria were holding the knife as Alois Kudlach described in his police statement, it would likely show blood evidence.
Kamerow was called back to the stand for a rebuttal testimony regarding Wecht’s statements earlier in the day. Kamerow argued that however Wecht interpreted the gunshot wound to the head, the second wound to the chest and the abdomen showed a significant downward angle, possibly indicating that Nuria Kudlach was in a lower position to her husband when shot.
The prosecution rested following rebuttal testimonies. The trial is expected to continue Saturday.