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updated: 9/13/2011 8:07 PM

West Chicago man blames accomplice for lawyer's 2009 murder

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  • Terry Bratcher

      Terry Bratcher

  • Keith Allen

      Keith Allen

  • Carl Kuhn was killed Aug. 21, 2009, at his rural Bartlett home.

      Carl Kuhn was killed Aug. 21, 2009, at his rural Bartlett home.
    COURTESY of ABC 7

 

A West Chicago man on trial for the murder of his former attorney sought to pin blame Tuesday on an accomplice who helped him rob the 82-year-old victim of more than 40 guns.

Defense attorneys said Terry Bratcher "insisted no one get hurt" before he and another man, Keith Allen, carried out the August 2009 heist that left Carl Kuhn dead.

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Prosecutors say Bratcher, 45, forced Kuhn's head into a pillow and suffocated him after the elderly gun collector refused to turn over the combination to a safe in his home near Bartlett.

But Bratcher claims he was unable to finish the killing, and that it was Allen who took Kuhn's life.

"Terry Bratcher is not an innocent man, but he did not kill Carl Kuhn," Assistant Public Defender Mike Mara told a DuPage County jury in opening statements Tuesday.

State's Attorney Robert Berlin said jurors will see a video interview in which Bratcher physically demonstrates on a sheriff's detective how he straddled Kuhn and held him facedown into a pillow. Mara contended the video shows what Bratcher did before he left Kuhn, declaring, "I can't do this."

The jury also will hear Bratcher's varying denials and explanations of what happened that day, Berlin said, as well as scientific evidence of Bratcher's shoe impressions on one of Kuhn's safes.

"What happened to Carl Kuhn that afternoon was an afternoon of horror," Berlin said.

Authorities found Kuhn's body about 9 p.m. Aug. 21, 2009, after Bratcher and his mother called police from the victim's home saying he was unresponsive and his residence ransacked.

Police arrested Allen and Bratcher the following day after Bratcher's mother found a gun inside her car and called detectives, who discovered a cache of Kuhn's weapons hidden in her garage.

Berlin said authorities determined Allen and Bratcher had concocted a scheme to steal some of Kuhn's "very expensive" firearms while participating in a Cook County drug court program together.

He said Bratcher, who was known and trusted by Kuhn, went into the victim's home and then summoned Allen, who was waiting outside with a loaded gun.

Once inside, the robbers placed clothes over Kuhn's head and forced him to an upstairs bedroom where he was suffocated, authorities said.

Kuhn's son Eric testified his father kept an estimated 200 firearms throughout his house -- the result of decades of collecting. Bratcher knew of the guns because he once was represented by Kuhn, and had spent time in recent years visiting the retired lawyer, working on his car, and taking him to movies, authorities said. The heist was carried out while Bratcher's mother was running an errand; she returned later with her son.

More than 40 weapons, including a starter rifle, were stolen from Kuhn's home, along with collector coins. Prosecutors said forensic evidence shows a circular saw recovered from Bratcher's garage was used to cut open one of Kuhn's safes.

Allen, 23, of Chicago, pleaded guilty this year to Kuhn's murder and is now serving a 46-year prison sentence. According to his plea, Allen admitted holding down Kuhn's arms and checking his pulse as Bratcher suffocated the victim. Prosecutors declined to comment on whether Allen would be called as a witness.

The trial resumes today in Judge Blanche Hill Fawell's courtroom in Wheaton.

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