NY lawyer Marie Kuhnla found dead in Turks and Caicos may have been sexually assaulted: family

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NY lawyer Marie Kuhnla found dead in Turks and Caicos may have been sexually assaulted: family

New evidence has emerged suggesting that a Long Island public defender who was found strangled to death in Turks and Caicos three years ago may have been sexually assaulted, her family’s attorney said.

Marie Kuhnla, 61, of Wantagh, an attorney with the Suffolk County Legal Aid Society, had seminal fluid on her underwear when her bruised body was discovered in the bushes at a Club Med resort in fall 2018, according to a new lab report that was turned over to her family’s lawyers Thursday, WNBC reported.

“It’s a bombshell because Royal Turks and Caicos police and Club Med had been arguing post Marie’s death that this incident was a result of Marie herself — that she essentially caused her own death,” family attorney Abe George told the news outlet.

“They’ve been hiding this proof that this was an intentional assault, an intentional sexual assault that led to her death,” he continued, adding that “they suggested essentially that Marie Kuhnla tripped and fell into the sand, and killed herself.”

The family, which suspects a cover-up, filed a $10 million wrongful death lawsuit in 2020 after hiring private investigator Eddie Dowd, who said it did not appear Kuhnla had walked away from the resort to where her body was found. 

As part of a new inquest after the lawsuit, the judge turned over the autopsy to her family.

Kuhnla, 61, was found dead in fall 2018 at a Club Med resort in Turks and Caicos.
Kuhnla, 61, was found dead in fall 2018 at a Club Med resort in Turks and Caicos.
NBC 4 NY

It revealed that she had suffered broken ribs, bruises on her inner thighs and had been partially disrobed, Dowd told Fox News, adding that although she was found 100 yards away from her shoes, there was no dirt or scratches on her feet.

The autopsy also showed her underwear was on her – but inside out, WNBC reported.

“It’s obviously really painful and difficult news,” son Rick Kuhnla Jr. told Fox News Digital after attending the proceedings virtually.

“Seeing the police officer read out that information in court was the first we’d heard of it… It just confirms the cover-up. I think there is no denying that this was a police cover-up anymore,” he said.

“The bottom line is that Club Med and police have been telling us for years that despite what their own ME found this was an accident,” the son added. “But the lab report shows blood on almost every article of clothing/personal effect she had in addition to seminal fluid on [her] panties.”

He told WNBC that the family “had our suspicions for years about a rape, but knowing that they lied for years and years that this was an accident, is disgusting.”

When asked by the station if he stood by his ruling of homicide by manual strangulation, the medical examiner, Dr. Michael Steckbauer, replied, “Of course.”

The wrongful death suit, filed in Nassau County, also accuses Frank Yacullo— a former Club Med employee who Kuhnla’s friends have said was last seen with her — of killing her, and the resort of covering up the crime.

The Khunla family, suspecting a cover-up, filed a $10 million wrongful death lawsuit in 2020.
The Kuhnla family, suspecting a cover-up, filed a $10 million wrongful death lawsuit in 2020.
Kuhnla family

Authorities found a woman’s DNA in Yacullo’s room, but it was not a match for Kuhnla, according to Fox News.

The Long Island man was initially detained for allegedly groping one of her friends, Helma Hermans, but later made bail and returned to the US, WNBC reported.

“I wasn’t the first to complain and I wasn’t the last. There were multiple complaints about him and they did nothing,” Hermans said, according to the outlet.

Prosecutors have reportedly declined to pursue Hermans’ complaint.

When reached for comment by WNBC, Yacullo denied any involvement.

He declined to cooperate with the FBI and the DNA evidence found on Kuhnla’s body was inconclusive, the station said.

“How do you degrade DNA? You put the body under exhaust, which is what happened,” George, the family attorney, told WNBC.

The medical examiner testified during an earlier civil court deposition as part of the family’s wrongful death suit that the body was badly decomposed and blamed a morgue worker.

Steckbauer said the employee “decided that she was going to place this specific decedent under a heated exhaust (fan), which no, I don’t think is appropriate. I do think in this case, it rises to the level of criminal liability,” the outlet reported.

“From what I have been told, her actions were intentional,” he reportedly added.

When asked by WNBC if he believed the decomposition was deliberate, Steckbauer would not comment.

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