Family says they cannot find closure after Grayling man gets lengthy prison sentence
Dan Sanderson | Staff Writer
A Crawford County Circuit Court judge stuck to the high end of guidelines when he sentenced a Grayling man for bludgeoning a 46-year-old woman using a can of yams.
46th Circuit Trial Court Judge Colin G. Hunter on Thursday, July 11, sentenced John Robert O’Connor to serve a minimum of 31 years and three months to a maximum of 50 years for second-degree murder. He was given credit for 574 days served in the Crawford County Jail.
A jury of seven men and five women delivered a guilty verdict for O’Connor, 57, on April 25.
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.
O’Connor was also given a sentence of 57 months to 120 months in prison for disinterment and mutilation of a dead body, a charge he pled guilty to on April 9 for moving Kukulski’s body from the location of her death.
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 clothes 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.
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 at his trial 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, she 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 O’Connor 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.
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.
“I know sorry doesn’t work,” O’Connor said before he was sentenced. “It was heinous. I never hated Michelle. I didn’t understand what was going on.”
O’Connor, who had a daughter that was abused from a previous marriage, said he feared the same would happen to his daughter.
“My anxiety turned into fear, which turned into something I couldn’t control,” he said.
O’Connor acknowledged he was first telling investigators false stories about what happened, but then gave them details on where Kukulski could be located.
“I had to come clean, and I had to do it for the family to have closure and tell them where Michelle was at,” he said.
Jean Kukulski’s, Michelle’s mother, said closure was beyond the realm of possibilities after the sentencing hearing.
“I’m glad it’s over with,” she said. “As far as closure goes, there will never be closure, because we’ve lost somebody and there’s no way you can have closure for that. I’m just so glad that he won’t be out.”
Hunter said he would not consider a life sentence for O’Connor, because that would have made him potentially eligible for parole after serving 15 years in prison.
If he serves the minimum sentence, O’Connor will be well into his 80s when he released, if he lives that long.
“By that point, the physical danger you would pose to others is gone,” Hunter said.
Hunter also chastised people who wrote letters to the court on O’Connor’s behalf. He said comments written about Kukulski amounted to “victim badgering” and were “unacceptable and reprehensible” and did nothing to support O’Connor.
“I don’t know what idea that motivated these people to write these letters, but they did nothing but disgust me,” Hunter said.
The sentencing lasted a little more than an hour as Hunter went over the Prior Record Variables (PRV) and Offense Variables (OV) with Crawford County Prosecutor Sierra R. Koch and Timothy Corr, O’Connor’s defense attorney.
Although the couple’s daughter has gone through counseling and is receiving medical attention, Hunter deemed that other family members saying they have suffered no physiological injuries did not factor into the sentencing.
“The mere fact that treatment has not been sought is not conclusive,” Hunter said.
Hunter called the murder a brutal act, but did not question if there was continued aggravated abuse after Kukulski was struck based on the testimony and evidence presented during the trial.
“This occurred in a period of two to three seconds – very quickly,” Corr said.
Finally, Hunter deemed that acts of unlawfully driving away of Michelle’s van, placing her in the van, burning her cloths, tampering with evidence, and throwing her cell phone out the van window could be considered as ongoing felonious conduct.
“He did numerous things to threaten the administration of justice,” Koch argued.
Surveillance footage, taken from Patrick O’Connor’s business in Florida, was also considered as part of the sentencing. The judge and jury viewed the footage of John throwing bricks and a chair at his dad as he became enraged that checks that were written to him were torn up that he planned to cash before returning to Michigan.
Koch said the couple’s children are having a tough time coping with the situations.
“These people lost their mother as a result of this,” Koch said.
Koch also countered a claim made to her by a juror who said there were all bad people involved in the case.
“These were not all bad people,” she said. “The victim was not a bad person. She did not deserve this.”
Corr argued that O’Connor was in a fit of rage when the incident occurred.
“One thing’s for sure,” he said. “This was a sudden loss of control.”