Principals unhappy with Baltimore case on TV

January 30, 1996|By Elaine Tassy | Elaine Tassy,SUN STAFF

TV offers a double dose today of James Allan Kulbicki, a former Baltimore policeman convicted of murdering a woman who filed a paternity suit against him.

First, Kulbicki appears on "The Montel Williams Show" in a telephone interview from prison, where he is serving life without parole.

Then, CBS airs "Double Jeopardy," a movie based on his relationship with Gina Marie Nueslein, a 22-year-old Royal Farms Store employee with whom he had a son, Michael, now 4.

Ms. Nueslein's family and the prosecutor who tried the case say neither show does anything to help bring the tragedy to closure.

Kulbicki was convicted in October 1993 of first-degree murder in the slaying of Ms. Nueslein, who was shot to death days before a paternity hearing. That conviction was overturned, but Kulbicki was found guilty again in a second trial held in November 1995. Now, he's serving time at the Maryland House of Corrections in Jessup.

That's where the "Montel" show caught up with Kulbicki, 39, last Thursday for a show scheduled to air at 4 p.m. today on WMAR-TV. Also appearing are his wife, Connie, his attorney, Patricia S. Hall, Ms. Nueslein's sister Jennifer, 18, and her mother Geraldine, 47.

The show includes "a heated argument" between Jennifer and Mrs. Kulbicki, who stands by her husband's story that he is innocent, said producer Felicia Miller.

Geraldine Nueslein said she agreed to be on the show to speak up for Gina, but found the whole experience harrowing. "I felt that real jittery feeling like when I went to court," she said of her nervousness before flying to New York last week for the taping.

The taping itself was no better. "I didn't like it," she said. "I'm sorry I went."

She added that Mrs. Kulbicki's unkind words about Gina and her insistence that her husband is innocent are maddening. "I'm so frustrated from this show that I feel like I could scream," she said.

Mrs. Kulbicki could not be reached by telephone yesterday.

Baltimore County Deputy State's Attorney Sue A. Schenning, a prosecutor in the case, said she is bothered that it is the focus of a daytime talk show.

"I see the motivation in going and wanting to get the accurate version of what took place across, but I don't see these shows ever doing that," said the prosecutor, who declined a request to appear on the show.

"Really, we view this as tabloid media and really just not worthy of anybody's consideration This kind of TV, to me, does not help people at all. It is incredibly harmful to society," she said.

The harm Kulbicki did to society is loosely documented in "Double Jeopardy," a two-hour movie written and directed by Deborah Dalton, who spent two years researching, writing and casting the film. Last week she was putting finishing touches on it. Reached by phone in Los Angeles, she said that during her research she developed a "close relationship" with the Nueslein family and met members of the Kulbicki family. However, Mrs. Nueslein said she met with Ms. Dalton only so that her daughter would be represented accurately.

And Ms. Hall, the lawyer who represents Kulbicki, said that from what she has seen and read about the movie, it paints an inaccurate picture, biased in favor of the Nueslein family. "They didn't talk to my client; they didn't talk to me," she said.

The film stars Joe Penny as Kulbicki, Teri Garr as his wife, and Brittany Murphy (the eclectic teen who arrives in Los Angeles from New York in "Clueless") as Ms. Nueslein.

It begins with Kulbicki meeting Ms. Nueslein, then a bubbly young waitress, in the restaurant where she worked. When the relationship progresses, Kulbicki deceives his wife about his affair and deceives Gina by telling her he is separated.

Scenes suggesting that Kulbicki's stepson might take responsibility for the murder justify the title, "Double Jeopardy."

The film ends with Kulbicki's first trial.

Narrated by the actress playing Gina ("Julia" in the movie, in which all the names are changed), it tries to capture some details of the case, but since it was filmed in Toronto, it misses a lot of Baltimore's nuances. The word "Hon" is only used once; no one has a distinctive Baltimore accent; narrow streets lined with rowhouses are absent. Mrs. Schenning, the prosecutor, said TV movies based on fact tend to trivialize the events and demean those involved.

"I don't think that benefits anybody by that kind of focus. I'm not real happy about this," she said, adding that she might watch it anyway, out of curiosity.

Mrs. Nueslein said she will not. "I don't really feel like I can at this moment," she said. "When I see the commercials, my heart just starts beating really fast. I don't think I'm ready to look at it."

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