Grayling man found guilty of second degree murder after weeklong trial
Dan Sanderson | Staff Writer
A jury found a Grayling man guilty of second-degree murder for bludgeoning a 46-year-old woman using a can of yams.
The jury of seven men and five women delivered their verdict for John Robert O’Connor, 57, on Friday, April 25, after nearly four hours of deliberations.
O’Connor killed Michelle Kukulski on Thursday, Dec. 7, 2017. They had lived together for 29 years, and had three children. The couple was estranged when the incident occurred.
Crawford County Prosecutor Sierra Koch argued for first-degree murder, which would have meant O’Connor intended to kill Kukulski and did so with premeditation and deliberation.
Tim Corr, O’Connor’s defense attorney from Oakland County, intended to convince the jury for a finding of voluntary manslaughter, meaning his client acted out of passion or anger before he had a reasonable time to calm down.
The elements of second-degree murder are the defendant intended to kill and cause great bodily harm or create a high risk of harm knowing death is likely.
Kukulski went to O’Connor’s home on Dec. 7 to retrieve some items for their daughter. During her time at the residence, she helped fold her daughter’s cloths and cleaned her room.
Kukulski had not been living in the home for several months. A point of contention was Kukulski started dating Larry Farley, who was released from prison in 2016 after serving 28 years for kidnapping. The case involved torturing a woman with a group of other men and chaining her to a tree in January winter weather.
O’Connor shared a court transcript from Farley’s plea deal in the 1988 case with several family members and friends.
“You could tell that really bothered John,” Phil Branum testified. “He thought he was a monster.”
O’Connor and Kukulski had a verbal agreement that their daughter would not be around Farley. A court hearing over custody of the daughter, which was slated to take place the next month, was adjourned.
In related court testimony, family members said that the daughter was left alone with Tom and Don, but did not reveal their last names. Kukulski was an in-home care giver for one of the men. She was dating the other man.
At one point, the daughter’s friend asked her mom to pick her up because the men were taking pictures of the girls while they were in a hot tub. O’Connor claimed that Kukulski said not to worry about the situation because they were 20 miles from her home.
“I don’t care if my kid is 100 miles away, I’m going to go get them,” O’Connor said as he took the stand at his trial last week.
Initially, O’Connor told police that Kukulski tripped over a dog and fell while walking from the home into a garage. He then said he fell on top of Kukulski, which caused her neck to break.
In testimony last week, O’Connor said he was carrying a bag of food in one hand and the can of yams in the other hand. As Kukulski was walking out, O’Connor said that Farley was going to be part of her life, therefore he was going to part of their daughter’s life.
It was then he hit Kukulski in the head three times with the can of yams.
O’Connor wrapped Kukulski’s body in a blanket and placed it in her van. He then drove the van to the back of property where he lived.
O’Connor hid the body off a two-track trail in Oscoda County.
O’Connor left the van by a Big Boy Restaurant near the Baldwin Commons Shopping Center in Clarkston. O’Connor claimed he was downstate to pick up a part for his home, where he said his truck broke down.
O’Connor conceded that he lied to family members and police following the murder, but came to grips with what he did.
“I knew what I did,” he said. “I was very remorseful.”
O’Connor said he told mental health employees in the Crawford County Jail that he regretted his actions, but was in shock when the incident occurred.
“I took something more precious than gold,” O’Connor testified.
O’Connor said he was concerned with his daughter’s safety when Farley would no longer be on parole or probation.
“As long as someone had a thumb on Larry Farley, he wasn’t going to be a choir boy,” O’Connor testified.
Katie Dalton, another daughter of O’Connor’s, testified that his wife from a previous marriage was convicted of child abuse. She said the man she lived with assaulted another sister, and abused a girl that they chained to a bed. The woman and man served lengthy terms in prison.
“He was afraid history would repeat itself, Dalton said.
Previous testimony from Farley was played on a video screen for jurors to view. Farley died on March 20 of this year.
“The only person that could defend her reputation is dead,” Koch argued in her closing statements in the trial.
Corr argued that no one claimed O’Connor was innocent of committing a crime.
“It was awful what he did,” Corr said. “Nobody said anything different.”
On April 9, O’Connor pled guilty to disinterment and mutilation of a dead body, a 10-year felony, for moving Kukulski’s body from the location of her death.
O’Connor faces life in prison or any term of years when he is sentenced by 46th Circuit Court Trial Judge Colin G. Hunter within the next month.