SYCAMORE – A solitary toddler’s outfit – a striped, short-sleeved shirt paired with khaki shorts – hung in the closet, just above the dead body of the child’s 19-year-old mother.
DeKalb County First Assistant State’s Attorney Stephanie Klein said in her opening statement Monday in the trial of Michael G. Kulpin that the child, who never slept in a crib in that room, cried while Kulpin stabbed and beat the boy’s mother, Moorea Des Roches, to death in an apartment in the 900 block of Kimberly Drive in DeKalb.
Opening statements and testimony were heard on the first day of Kulpin’s trial on first-degree murder charges. His lawyer, Dan Transier, conceded that Kulpin killed Des Roches, but said he is seeking a second-degree murder conviction, rather than first-degree.
Klein said Des Roches was found stabbed and beaten to death in the closet of the toddler’s room June 5, 2016. She said by the end of the trial, which is expected to wrap up Thursday, a pathologist would testify that Des Roches was stabbed 27 times, and that among the bloody clothes found in a dumpster outside the apartment, police also found a kitchen pan, misshapen, its handle broken off.
If Chief Judge Robbin Stuckert finds Kulpin guilty of first-degree murder, he’ll face up to 100 years in prison because of a previous domestic battery conviction, and must serve the full sentence. Kulpin was convicted of domestic battery in Kane County for repeatedly punching Des Roches in the back seat of a woman’s car in March 2015. In an interview with police, the driver said Kulpin hit Des Roches with “at least 25 punches.”
If Kulpin is found guilty of second-degree murder, he could face four to 15 years, but would be eligible for probation. Even if he’s sentenced to prison, he could get out after serving 50 percent of his sentence, Klein said.
Transier said Kulpin can’t be convicted of first-degree murder because police didn’t establish what led to him killing Des Roches.
“There’s no question that during that first weekend of June 2016, something terrible happened in that apartment,” Transier said. “We’ll present mitigating factors, beyond preponderance of evidence, that show Mr. Kulpin acted under sudden, intense, impassioned provocation. He and Ms. Des Roches were arguing. We don’t know why, or who started it. He wasn’t asked.”
Kulpin has waived his right to a jury trial and requested that Stuckert decide his fate.
Des Roches’ mother, Susan Des Roches, testified Monday that June 3, 2016, was going to be the first night her daughter, Kulpin and their child, who was not yet 2, would spend together. She said Moorea had worked a lot of hours at Portillo’s in Batavia, and was excited to get off at 4 p.m. that Friday, pick up her son and have a 24-hour reprieve and a chance to settle into her apartment with her boyfriend.
“Her plan, and she was very excited about it, was to hang out in the morning and spend some time together with her little family for a moment,” Susan said.
Klein said in her opening statement that Kulpin grew restless waiting for Moorea Des Roches, and that once she arrived at the apartment, he killed her.
“This defendant wasn’t satisfied with stabbing Moorea 27 times; he also beat her with a pan,” Klein said. “While the defendant is murdering Moorea, Isaac is in that apartment. He’s crying. He cannot get to sleep.”
She said after Kulpin threw out bloody towels, Clorox wipes, bloody bathroom rugs and Moorea’s bloody uniform – most of the items in the dumpster outside, but some of them in the kitchen trash – he wrapped her body in a pink tablecloth, a black fitted sheet and a shower curtain liner, and dumped her in a bedroom.
“He puts her body into what would have been Isaac’s bedroom,” Klein said.
She said Kulpin then took Isaac and checked into a hotel, before dropping him off at Des Roches’ parents’ house the next day.
Kaileigh Jung-Herman and her then-fiance, Michael Meszaros, testified Monday that they heard from Kulpin on Sunday morning for the first time in months, and that the trio met up in South Elgin, where Meszaros lived with his mother. She said they made two trips to Chicago to buy heroin, ultimately shooting up in a South Elgin park and then at Kulpin’s apartment – after he drove the group back there in Des Roches’ car.
All the while, Kulpin gave them one rule: “He said when we get there, we could have free roam, but we could not go into his bedroom,” Meszaros said.
“ ‘Do not go in my room,’ is what he said,” Jung-Herman said.
Meszaros testified that when police knocked on the door June 5, 2016, Kulpin ran to “his” bedroom, which was actually the spare bedroom set up for Isaac.
Meszaros said he followed and heard what sounded like a bed being moved as he planned to urge Kulpin to answer the door, but Kulpin blocked him before he could get in.
Police have testified that Kulpin was visibly high when he came to the door. He told the officers they couldn’t come in because there was something in the closet that would put him in jail for a long time.
Physical evidence is expected to be presented Tuesday, and the woman who performed the autopsy on Des Roches and another lab worker are expected to testify Thursday.
Transier said whether Kulpin will take the stand is anybody’s guess.
The final testimony presented Monday was the recording of Kulpin’s conversation from jail with his sister, in which he claims he and Des Roches fought, and that when he shoved her, she hit her head and was “bleeding everywhere.”
He then, however, said, “I just blacked out and went psychosis,” adding that he feared he was “going to die in jail.”
The trial will resume at 10 a.m. Tuesday.