Despite years of friendship, a down-on-his-luck former client of Carl W. Kuhn is accused of suffocating the retired lawyer in his home near Bartlett in a plot to steal his prized gun collection.
Details of the complex murder investigation surfaced Tuesday as the defendants made their first court appearances on first-degree murder and home invasion charges.
A DuPage County judge denied bond for Terry S. Bratcher, 43, of the 3N500 block of Route 59 in West Chicago. His co-defendant, Keith L. Allen, 21, of the 10000 block of South LaSalle Street in Chicago, remains jailed on a $3 million bond.
It was Bratcher, along with his mother, who alerted police about 9 p.m. Friday when they reported finding the 82-year-old man unresponsive, lying face down in a guest bed, on the second floor of his home on the 29W400 block of Schick Road. Bratcher's mother, Jodie, was performing CPR when rescuers arrived, authorities said.
From the onset, despite Kuhn's age and history of heart problems, police said they were suspicious of how the elderly man died. They did not find signs of forced entry, but the upstairs was ransacked and a safe was sawed open.
A Saturday autopsy also wasn't clear cut. A usual telltale sign of suffocation - broken blood vessels - was absent in the victim's eyelids and mouth, but some were present in his throat, officials said.
Sheriff's detectives quickly turned their focus to Bratcher, who with his mother had grown close through the years to Kuhn. Bratcher's ex-wife once worked for Kuhn. The longtime attorney also represented Bratcher in different legal matters, according to court records.
Prosecutor Robert Berlin said Bratcher concocted a plan last week to rob Kuhn. After the victim let Bratcher into his home, the defendant called Allen - who was lying in wait outside, armed with a gun, Berlin said.
"They forced the victim upstairs, covering his face with a jacket, and forced him onto a bed," the prosecutor said. "It was Bratcher who held the back of the victim's head into a cushion on the bed and smothered him."
Both men provided sheriff's detectives with videotaped confessions, Berlin said. He said Bratcher demonstrated on the video how he killed Kuhn. Police also recovered the stolen guns, more than 40, in Bratcher's garage in West Chicago, Berlin said.
Eric Kuhn said he learned Monday the family friend was charged in his father's death.
"He defended (Terry) for years," the son said. "They'd hang out. He'd take my dad out to a movie or work on his car. This was a guy my dad trusted. The door wasn't busted open. My dad let him in."
Kuhn added: "I'm totally betrayed and astounded."
Bratcher's criminal history includes a 2006 forgery in which he doctored a court order to try to avoid a wage garnishment for child support. He also pleaded guilty earlier this year to attempted forgery for doctoring a bogus prescription for pain killers.
Bratcher's life spiraled out of control in recent years, court records showed. His third wife was granted a divorce Jan. 13. She accused him of "extreme and repeated mental cruelty," according to the divorce petition.
Bratcher, who called himself a born-again Christian, also faced severe financial and health problems, due to a back injury. He complained in court records of needing mental help. He also was taking many pain killers.
"Life is very stressful right now," he wrote in a February probation report. "I'm lucky to have a great mother and loving people at church who help me a lot. I'd like to see a shrink to help with anxiety and depression, but I don't have insurance for that."
He also wrote that month: "I feel like at times I'm standing at the door of an airplane without a parachute. I almost never leave the house because of the pain."
Carl Kuhn, a gun-rights activist, practiced law for 50 years. He was a longtime fixture in DuPage County, with a Glen Ellyn law office. It was while defending Bratcher on a traffic case that Kuhn lost his law license at age 75 when he was disbarred in early 2003.
Kuhn appeared in court for Bratcher in 2002. At that time, Kuhn's license had been suspended for 60 days due to his mishandling of a Cook County divorce case and trying to cover it up. Bratcher's case was one of five that state licensing officials accused Kuhn of handling while on suspension.
Despite Kuhn's late-life licensing issues, his former colleagues recall a gracious, hardworking lawyer.
"Carl was always a gentleman," said attorney Joseph Mirabella of Wheaton. "He was a soft-spoken, bright guy who always conducted himself as a lawyer should."
Added U.S. Northern District Judge John "Jack" Darrah: "He was a country lawyer. He was extremely versatile and handled everything from real estate to criminal cases."
• Daily Herald Staff Writer Kimberly Pohl contributed to this story.