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He shoplifted at Walmart with his toddler. His getaway killed the child, NJ prosecutors say

Christopher Kuhn, a 28-year-old New Jersey man, was sentenced Monday after prosecutors convicted him of murder in the car crash that killed his 2-year-old son as he sped through a red light to get away from his Walmart shoplifting attempt.
Christopher Kuhn, a 28-year-old New Jersey man, was sentenced Monday after prosecutors convicted him of murder in the car crash that killed his 2-year-old son as he sped through a red light to get away from his Walmart shoplifting attempt. Bucks County Prosecutor's Office

After the three-car wreck, a toddler lay dead on the ground.

But it took a moment for witnesses at the crash last October in Tullytown, New Jersey, to realize the lifeless body actually belonged to a child, prosecutors said.

“I thought it was a doll,” said Marwin Sinno, whose car was hit in the crash, according to the Bucks County Prosecutor’s Office. “I looked again and it was a child on the ground.”

Before the crash, the toddler’s 28-year-old father — Christopher Kuhn of Hamilton, New Jersey — had taken the young boy to a local Walmart, where the father had tried to shoplift $228 in sound equipment, prosecutors said. Kuhn got caught in the act, so he abandoned the electronics and ran away from the store. He was just leaving the parking lot with his “tires squealing” as cops pulled up, prosecutors said.

During his getaway, Kuhn flew through a red light in his Jeep SUV and rammed into another vehicle on Route 13, rolling his vehicle and sending the unbuckled child flying into the road. Kuhn got out of the Jeep and walked around 2-year-old Qadan Trievel’s body. From one ear to the other, the boy’s skull had been fractured, prosecutors said.

A firefighter described finding the boy “pale, motionless and not breathing, with blood coming from his head and ears,” according to the prosecutor’s office.

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Kuhn was able to get out of the car.

“He paced a couple of times, then he said a couple of curse words,” Sinno said, according to prosecutors. “Then he took off running.”

Kuhn was convicted of third-degree murder in Qadan’s death in March, and was sentenced Monday to between 8-1/2 and 30 years in prison, the Bucks County Courier-Times reports.

The child’s mother, Mackenzy Trievel, told the judge she and Kuhn had shared custody of the toddler — and that the last time she gave Qadan over to Kuhn before the boy’s death, she “held on to Qadan for an extra 20 minutes,” the newspaper reports.

In her victim’s advocate reading in court, Trievel said that now “I only get to visit my son at his grave,” according to the newspaper.

Kuhn apologized in court, blaming his actions on his addiction, WPVI reports.

“I don’t know what to say, because nothing’s going to bring him back. I’m just truly sorry,” Kuhn said, according to the TV station. “I loved my son. I don’t want anybody to think that I didn’t. The addiction I was suffering took control of me. On a day-to-day basis, it was just consuming me, all day, all the time. I couldn’t beat it.”

Blood tests indicated that Kuhn had marijuana and oxycodone in his body during the crash, the Bucks County Courier-Times reports. He also was driving with a suspended license.

Deputy District Attorney Robert D. James said the courtroom apology was “too little, too late,” WPVI reports.

Following the crash, Kuhn was found nearby in the weeds, where he had his arms wrapped around his knees, according to prosecutors. An officer dragged him back to the crash site, where another officer relayed the news about Kuhn’s son.

“I think he’s dead,” the officer told Kuhn, who was now in handcuffs, prosecutors said.

At that point, Kuhn “erupted into a high-pitched scream that endured for several minutes,” prosecutors said.

Kuhn’s public defender argued that Kuhn’s screams “were not the cries of a hardened heart,” meaning his actions weren’t malicious.

Prosecutors said it was malicious to bring Qadan along for a shoplifting excursion.

“I am here to speak for 2-year-old Qadan,” James told the judge during the three-day trial in March, according to the prosecutor’s office. “A 2-year-old boy who is not here to speak for himself due to the malicious acts of his own father.”

Joe Rightmire was pinned underneath his pickup truck, couldn’t move at all, and his head was partially submerged in water with sharp sticks jabbing into his scalp for nearly two days.

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