Thursday, May 3, 2012

Shadow in the Rain by Harriett Ford: Guest Post

Mystery/Suspense (Suitable for YA and Mature Readers)


A cub reporter, convinced an innocent man has been convicted, tries to untangle the truth and free him from prison. She is stalked by a killer and also challenged to free herself from her own prison of grief in order to love again. Based on an actual crime in Rockford, Illinois, the book includes an addendum by renowned forensics scientist Author Chancellor. His analysis of the case points to the complete lack of evidence, motive, weapon, or witness accounts. This is a story of murder, love, and of the criminal justice system gone terribly wrong.



Readers Want to Know:

Readers of the book Shadow in the Rain, a novel by news reporter Harriett Ford, (that’s me) are asking questions. Many of these questions have answers, unlike the murder investigation itself.

Truth is always stranger than fiction, because truth has to be believable.

My book is the true story of romance, murder, lies, missing tapes, and a conviction with no forensic evidence, no murder weapon ever found, no motive, and a single eye witness who changed his story fifteen times as a matter of court record. 


During my investigation, I worked with a nationally known forensics scientist and a private investigator, each of whom came to believe the wrong man was convicted. The accused murderer, Ted Kuhl, has been serving a 50-year sentence since 1997.


News readers know that Ted Kuhl and his girlfriend Janet Nivinski enjoyed a late night at a restaurant with several friends including Christa Peterson. At 1:30 a.m. on that bitter cold December, Ted walked Janet and Christa out to the parking lot. Christa stopped at her own car and began to scrape frost off the windshield. Ted and Janet walked about six cars away. He kissed Janet goodnight, and turned his back to head for his own car across the parking lot when Janet screamed. Four to five gunshots rang out. Kuhl ducked and ran, dodging bullets. He grabbed Christa, who had tried to duck under her vehicle, and hurried her back inside the restaurant. He then ran back out accompanied by Dan Johnson, to find Janet beyond help, a bullet in her brain.

People who attended the trial, read newspaper accounts of the crime, and are reading Shadow in the Rain have asked the following questions.



Q. How much of the reporter, Tia Marie Burgess, is you?

A. Naturally I chose to reinvent myself as the young, beautiful, and tragic heroine. What grandmother wouldn't?

Actually, the character of Tia is completely fictional. However the investigation that she conducts in the book was my experience. Cap, her romantic interest, is entirely fictional.

Q. Why did you decide to weave a fictional subplot into your story of the Kuhl case?

A. For two reasons. First, it’s a fact that women are the largest group to purchase books, and they typically gravitate to romance. I wanted to reach that population. Judges, attorneys, senators and governors have wives. Perhaps one of them will read the book and persuade her husband that this man's case deserves another look.

Second, I had to create some suspense and bring the reader to a somewhat satisfactory conclusion. Since there is no happy ending for Ted Kuhl at this time, I chose to develop the romantic angle for that reason.

There is also a third reason. You may guess about that one.

Q. Ted lied when he said Janet had a gun, which was untrue. She died with a glass in one hand and car keys in the other. --Cheri Nivinski (a family member of the victim).

A. Ted did not say Janet had a gun. It was the police who suggested that possibility in a hypothetical scenario of the crime.

Q. Why did Ted sign a confession right after he got off work?

Ted did not sign a confession. Police typed up their idea of what “accidentally” happened. They told Ted he could go home if he would only sign it. This was after he had worked a full day and then endured fourteen hours of brutal interrogation. An exhausted Ted had been awake almost 24 hours at that time.

Q. Ricky Mueller, the star witness and Ted’s good friend, testified at trial that he saw Ted aiming the gun from 50 feet away at the victim. How close was the gunman when he fired the actual shot?

A. According to Forensics specialist Dr. Blum, gunpowder stippling around the wound showed Janet was shot from as close as five inches. This leaves a huge contradiction between Mueller’s statement and Dr. Blum's.

Q. What about Mueller’s statement that he saw Ted’s green ball cap as he walked toward the victim aiming the gun?

Another contradiction: Mueller swore Ted was wearing a green ball cap. Ted's cap was white. Ted’s attorney neglected to display it to the jury or to point out the discrepancy.

Q. Wasn’t Ted struggling with the victim when the gun went off?

A. On the contrary, Ted was seen kissing Janet goodnight. To fire the gun directly in front of Janet--as written in the hypothetical scenario--the bullet would not have struck her in the right temple. Not unless Ted was left-handed and also a contortionist.

However, the wound on the right side of Janet's head (according to the death certificate) makes perfect sense if she had turned to look at Ted who was walking away with his back turned to her, according to both himself and at least three other witnesses.

Q. Didn’t Ricky Mueller testify that he heard Ted say he planned to kill Janet at the bar that night?

A. Yes, Mueller did say that, but he later said in court that he did not remember ever hearing Ted make that statement. Mueller changed his statement no less than 16 times as a matter of court record, which raises serious questions about his credibility.

Q. Did the prosecutor withhold this retraction from the jury?

Yes, Assistant State's Attorney Mark Karner admitted under oath that he had withheld this information from the jury. Without doubt, this information would have made a huge difference in the trial’s outcome.

Q. If Ted and Christa Peterson (the victim’s best friend) were not having an affair, why did she spend the night at his place the very night after the murder?

A. Christa's ex-husband had their children for the weekend, and she was understandably afraid to stay alone. She asked Ted if she could sleep on his sofa.

Remember, Christa had just seen her best friend shot and killed. Significantly, only twelve weeks earlier, Christa’s former boyfriend also had been shot to death in a drug-related shooting. She was terrified that the killer had seen her at the death scene and would come after her. In fact she believed he had fired shots at her and at Ted while she was trying to hide underneath her car, a fact that other witnesses verified.

Q. Why didn’t Ted first run to Janet instead of to Christa?

A. Ted ran from gunfire. Perhaps he believed Janet was hiding. The manager from the game place saw Ted running "as if dodging bullets," then kneeling, then running again. He never saw Ted with a gun or attempting to hide one.

Q. Why are you so convinced Ted and Christa never had an affair?

A.I interviewed numerous people who knew Ted, Christa and Janet well and socialized with them. None of them believed Ted and Christa were involved in an affair. One of Ted’s coworkers passed by his house nightly on the way home. He said Christa’s car was never there, only Janet’s.

Q. Didn't Christa and Ted continue to see each other after the shooting?

A. No. Once police convinced Christa that Ted had actually confessed to the murder, she refused to speak to him again. Before that bit of deceit, Christa did ask Ted to accompany her to purchase a dress for Janet's funeral. To strengthen his theory, the prosecutor implied Ted had bought the dress, however Christa has a Visa receipt proving she paid for it.

Q. What makes you so sure Christa is telling the truth?

I have sat with Christa, looked her in the eyes, and observed her behavior. She actually went to a therapist and asked to be put under hypnosis to find out if she had repressed memories as the police suggested. In fact she did not suppress her memories. Her testimony has remained completely consistent and has never changed since her first statements to police.

Q. Is there any other motive for the murder?

A. There are many possible gang-related motives, but none for Ted. Janet has a twin sister who was involved with a gang member. The private investigator thought the murder could have been a mistaken identity.

More importantly, even if Ted and Christa were having an affair, this was not a motive for murder. Janet had already moved out of the house, and Ted was free to date whomever. The two women remained best friends and were planning a trip together. Where was the need for murder? This theory flies in the face of their behavior.

It appears far more likely the drive-by gangland style shooting was the reason Janet died. Also she was involved in an investigation at the bank where she had uncovered something “not right.” Money is always a motive for crime.

Q. Didn’t the prosecutor say Ted lied from the beginning of the investigation, and that an innocent man does not lie?

A. Yes, Ted lied and the prosecutor did use this information to turn the jury against him even though it had nothing to do with the investigation. For 20 years, Ted had claimed he served in Vietnam, first in order to gain points with an employer and later with Janet's pro-military father. During the entire 20 years, Ted never killed anybody. If all people who ever told a lie are also murderers, there wouldn't be enough prisons to hold them.

Q. The jury heard the gun was there, but never found. Wouldn't the police have checked Ted, Mueller and Christa for a gun?

A. Even the greenest cop knows to do that. Loves Park police chief Darryl Lindberg told me that he instructed his officers to check Ted's truck.

Q. Why was this information withheld from the jury?

A. Police did not write in reports that they checked the car and did not find a gun. Without a police report to confirm it, prosecutors could suggest to the jury that the weapon had to be there.

Q. How do you know Ted did not have time to hide the gun?

A. Ted was never alone in the parking lot. He first saw Christa to safety, running under gunfire. Then he immediately ran back to Janet’s body accompanied by Dan Johnson. Police arrived within in three minutes of the 911 call made by Ricky Mueller. They seated Ted in a squad car to stop him from banging on car windshields and demanding, “Who did this?”

Q. Couldn't Ted have tossed the gun into Christa's car or his own pickup?

A. No, there simply wasn't time. Private investigator Joe Lamb documented the time line very accurately from video surveillance cameras. Ted had barely 12 seconds from the time of the first shot until he and Christa ran inside the bar. His truck was parked nearer Mueller's van on the far side of the parking lot. In addition, the security cameras would have shown any attempt to toss or hide a weapon.

Q. What did the video camera show?

Actually, there were six cameras taken by police, which went missing. Private Investigator Joe Lamb was mystified by this missing evidence and by what these films may have revealed. He found the mountings for these cameras which had been removed.

Q. The charge against Ted was First Degree premeditated murder. Doesn't that mean that a crime-of-passion, as theorized by prosecutors, should be a lesser charge?

A. That is a logical assumption. Premeditated murder implies willful planning rather sudden violence.

Q. Why would anyone sign a "confession" or hypothetical scenario of the crime if he were actually innocent?

A. As unbelievable as it may seem, false confessions happen regularly and frequently. A suspect is threatened during an interrogation. One veteran interrogator told me he could get a confession out of a ham sandwich. Police can imply they have evidence against a suspect. He hears he will get the death penalty if he doesn't confess. Many times he breaks down and agrees to a lesser charge in order to avoid a certain conviction.

Q. Do false confessions happen often?

False confessions happened 14 times in Illinois alone during the 1980s to 2000, and each suspect received the death penalty. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, DNA evidence exonerated 13 of those men, one of them just hours away from execution.

Nationwide, there have been some 200 murder convictions overturned since DNA has finally come into its own. Many of these convicts confessed to murders they did not commit.

Exhausted,Ted signed the statement, believing that as the facts of the case came forth he would be declared innocent.

Q. Why would anyone plan a murder in front of ten or more witnesses in the parking lot?

A. Why indeed? If he was planning to kill Janet for some unknown reason, he had plenty of opportunity to lure her into a secluded area where he need not fear being seen.

Q. In your book, the leader of the Satan’s Disciples wrote a letter hinting that he was the killer. Is that true, and Did police ever check into it?

A. It is true. I turned the letter over to investigators. They never checked it out. Members of the Satan’s Disciples gang are documented as being in the parking lot that night, as well as other persons with violent histories. Some were convicted of a drive-by shooting of a Rockford woman only two years later.

Q. Did Ted have a criminal history or a record of violent behavior?

A. No. I have spoken at length with his family members, neighbors, former wife, and people who have known Ted since childhood. All say He never exhibited a single instance of violent behavior. All insisted that Ted was a gentle, peaceful man.

While veteran lawmen say that anything is possible, they will agree the best predictor of human behavior is past behavior. I also consulted psychology texts. For Ted to have committed this crime, he would have had to experience a sudden, unprecedented psychotic fugue. There was nothing in his behavior to foreshadow such behavior. All witnesses at the scene observed him kissing Janet before he turned to leave.

Q. Why did Mueller suddenly accuse his best friend?

A. I can guess. After hours of exhaustive interrogation, an officer asked him what he was afraid of. Mueller answered, "Of not spending the rest of my life with my wife and kids." It seems likely that Mueller believed he would be charged.

Q. Do you think Mueller was threatened?

A. Yes. Both by police intimidation and also by gang members. As a reporter, I hear street rumors. I believe gang members threatened Mueller not to tell what he saw. The first description he furnished to police described a man who wore a bomber jacket with the insignia of a street gang. This man was seen circling parking lot for two hours before Janet and Ted walked out of the restaurant bar. He was proven to have gang connections by a phone call he made from the parking lot.

Q. Why did police let the barefoot driver wearing the fake beard simply leave the scene?

A. I don’t know. Reason tells me that this driver should have been thoroughly checked. Why was he barefoot on a bitter cold December night? Why was he wearing a fake beard?

Q. Do you think you're smarter than the jury?

A. No. If I had sat on that jury I probably would have reached the same conclusion they did. However, I have access to more complete information than the jury was allowed to hear.

Q. Isn't this story mostly your personal opinion? What actual sources did you use to document your theory?

A. Most of my information comes from exhaustive notes collected by Joe Lamb, former Register Star investigative reporter turned private eye. For over a year, Joe worked the case, conducted his own ballistics tests and thoroughly pursued many aspects of the crime. I also had access to police reports, witness interviews, court records, the recorded accusation on the "overhear tape", the signed hypothetical scenario, and the print-out results of Christa's and Mueller's lie detector tests. I had a detailed account of the activities of the suspects on the day of the crime furnished by Defense Attorney Dan Cain. In addition, I interviewed several people involved in the crime, witnesses and friends of Janet and Ted.

Q. Aren’t you the only one who believes Ted is not guilty?

I am not alone in my conclusion that Ted is not guilty. At the end of my book is a 25-page analysis of the crime done by Forensic Scientist Arthur Chancellor, an eye-opening report. With his weighty and impressive resume, he can hardly be ignored.

Q. Where can I buy more copies of the book?

Amazon.com or any local bookstore.


I am the reporter who investigated the actual 1996 murder on which this book is based. Ted Kuhl was convicted without any forensic evidence, no murder weapon ever found, no  motive ever proved, and only one so-called witness who changed his story 16 times as a matter of court record. Mr. Kuhl was a decent, hardworking, man, a Boy Scout leader, and had absolutely no criminal record. His murdered girlfriend, Janet, worked in overseas loan transferrals for Amcore Bank in Rockford and had been investigating a "problem."

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3 comments:

Courtney Wyant said...

Thanks for the great giveaway!! Sounds like an amazing book!

Kimberly Lim said...

Thanks for the giveaway

Helen said...

I love a good mystery