SUNBURY — A round of applause broke out moments after convicted rapist John Kurtz was found guilty of all 43 counts against him and escorted from the Northumberland County Courtroom in handcuffs on Wednesday afternoon.
It took a jury of seven men and five women less than an hour to find the 46-year-old Shamokin resident, a former prison guard at the State Correctional Institution in Coal Township, guilty of all criminal charges against him, including 27 felonies and 16 misdemeanors of rape, kidnapping, burglary, strangulation and related charges. Over five days of testimony, the commonwealth laid out evidence and presented testimony that Kurtz was responsible for multiple kidnappings, rapes and attempted kidnappings of five victims within Northumberland, Montour and Columbia counties between November 2012 and April 2017.
As Sheriff Bob Wolfe and Sheriff Deputy Ed Griffiths escorted Kurtz from the courthouse to the sheriff's vehicle for transport back to the county jail in Coal Township, Kurtz's accusers and their families and friends stood watching and shouting at him. They called Kurtz a "scumbag" and other obscene names, wished for his death and gestured with the middle finger, but those individuals declined to comment further or provide names.
“Go to hell,” one woman yelled. “You got what you deserved,” said another.
As Kurtz was put in the back of a sheriff’s vehicle and driven away, the small group once again clapped.
District Attorney Tony Matulewicz, in a prepared statement, praised the efforts of First Assistant District Attorney Julia Skinner, the lead prosecutor in the case, as well as the arresting officers, state Trooper Joel Follmer and Cpl. Jeffery Vilello, both of the Pennsylvania State Police. Numerous other members of the Pennsylvania State Police, state police crime lab and criminal investigation assessment units, F.B.I – Behavioral Analysis Unit, PA Department of Corrections and others contributed to the investigation, and Trooper Kevin Kearney was instrumental during trial preparation.
“PSP Tpr. Follmer and Cpl. Vilello conducted an intensive investigation that required a tremendous investment of time and resources," Matulewicz said. "Our residents are fortunate to have police with such a determined commitment to justice and the victims."
Skinner put in "countless hours," both throughout the investigation and in preparation for the trial, he said.
"She routinely works nights, weekends and holidays to perfect her case and has a passion to see victims get justice, said Matulewicz. "She is a true asset to the D.A.'s office and I am extremely lucky to have her. She constantly gives everything she does her all,” said Matulewicz."
Public Defender Michael Suders and Kurtz declined to comment following the verdict. In his 45-minute closing argument prior to the verdict, Suders attempted to cast doubt to the jury on the evidence presented.
Northumberland County President Judge Charles Saylor ordered a pre-sentence investigation and an assessment from the Sexual Offenders Assessment Board to determine whether Kurtz is a sexually violent predator. Kurtz will be sentenced within 90 days.
Saylor also granted the commonwealth's motion to revoke bail; Suders did not object, only saying that his client has been unable to post the combined $1.75 million bail since he was arrested in December 2017.
Search warrants, DNA evidence
The first week of the trial provided testimony from troopers who said they narrowed down Kurtz as a suspect when they issued a search warrant to Google, asking for any IP address nationwide that searched for one woman's name from July 13 through July 20, 2016. Testimony also revealed that Kurtz's cellphone was used at least 10 times in the vicinity of a victim's residence during the time of an incident.
Multiple troopers and forensic scientists testified that DNA collected from the crime scene of two rapes and one home invasions matched that of DNA collected from discarded cigarettes belonging to Kurtz. The cigarettes were collected when troopers were following Kurtz on a 24-hour basis, which included placing a tracking device on Kurtz's vehicle, troopers following him physically, and a police helicopter in the air when Kurtz would be driving, according to testimony.
The commonwealth also presented Kurtz's confession that was taped during his interview with police. Kurtz presented details on the crimes that only the perpetrator, the police and the victims would have known and were not released to the public. He provided details the state police never knew, including new victims, habits and planning previously unknown, according to testimony.
The trial also had emotional testimony from victims and their families. Two victims were bound and gagged at their homes, taken to another location and raped. Another two victims testified they, too, were bound and gagged, but the assailant let them go without sexually assaulting or injuring them and a fifth victim testified her house was broken into while she was home.
None of the victims could see their attacker's face because he was wearing a mask and they were blindfolded, according to testimony.
The Daily Item does not publish the names of victims of sexual assault.