Obsession. Manipulation. Deception. According to prosecutor MaryEllen Albanese, those three motives are what drove Kingston dentist Gilberto Nunez to kill his best friend and romantic rival Thomas Kolman Jr. with a lethal dose of a sedative in a Town of Ulster parking lot back in November 2011.
But Nunez’s defense counsel, Gerald Shargel, pushed back, calling the prosecution’s characterization of his client’s motive bogus and their scientific evidence suspect.
The drama played out in Ulster County Court Wednesday afternoon at opening arguments in Nunez’s trial on a charge of second-degree murder. Nunez is accused of killing Kolman following a bizarre campaign to break up his marriage and secure the affections of his wife, Linda Kolman. Nunez also faces forgery charges for allegedly using fake Central Intelligence Agency letterhead and possessing a fake CIA “Special Agent” badge that prosecutors say he used to further his deception. With nearly 90 potential witnesses and reams of medical and scientific data to go through, Nunez trial is expected to last three to four weeks. But jurors got a preview of the prosecution case during Albanese’s opening.
Albanese is a senior assistant district attorney with the Orange County District Attorney’s Office, detailed to prosecute the case after Ulster DA Holley Carnright bowed out, citing a conflict of interest. In her opening, Albanese traced the origins of Kolman’s death to January 2011 when Nunez began an affair with Linda Kolman. At the time, Albanese said, Thomas Kolman and Gilberto Nunez were best friends. Nunez was single and living in an office above his Washington Avenue dental practice. Kolman a 44-year-old licensed physical therapist employed by United Health, lived in Saugerties with Linda and their two children. Over the next 11 months, Albanese said, the three were involved in an increasingly strange love triangle that ended when Linda Kolman discovered her husband dead in his car in the parking lot of the Planet Fitness gym on Miron Lane.
“Gilberto Nunez was obsessed with Linda Kolman,” Albanese told the jury. “To further that obsession, he used deception and manipulation to drive Thomas and Linda apart so he could have Linda for himself. When everything backfired and it didn’t work, he took the ultimate step.”
Albanese said that Nunez’s bizarre campaign to break up the couple began in the summer of 2011, about six months after he began his affair with Linda when she began receiving text messages from someone calling themselves “Samantha,” informing her that she was sleeping with Thomas Kolman. When Linda Kolman told Nunez about the texts, Albanese said, the dentist said he would look into it. A short time later, Nunez allegedly handed Kolman a document on forged CIA letterhead purporting to be an analysis of the text messages. The letter informed Kolman that if she had further questions, she should speak to “Doctor G.”
In July 2011, when Thomas Kolman went out of town for a few days, Albanese told the jury, he was barraged with hundreds of anonymous text messages informing him that his wife was carrying on an affair “with the dentist.” At the same time, Linda Kolman received a flood of messages telling her that her husband was cheating on her. When Kolman returned home, the pair compared phones and found that all of the messages came from the same number. Prosecutors would later trace the messages to a disposable “burner” phone that was active for a short time in July 2011.
Not long after, Albanese said, Linda Kolman tried to break off the affair. Nunez responded with threats of suicide and impassioned emails. Albanese quoted an email allegedly sent by Nunez to Linda Kolman that read, in part, “If I lose you, I will lose everything I believe to be true … Even though I will never take my life because I promised you, my life will be as if I am dead.”
At one point, Albanese said, Nunez created a fake email account and impersonated his own mother to assure Kolman that her that her children would eventually come to accept her relationship with Nunez and implore her to give up efforts to reconcile with her husband.
“You both will have a miserable life and will end up breaking up anyway,” Albanese said, quoting the Aug. 16, 2011 email.
Thanksgiving, then death
The affair, Albanese said, continued with Thomas Kolman’s knowledge and apparent acquiescence. Nunez and Thomas Kolman, she said, remained friends, saw each other socially and traded friendly text messages. Shargel would later point out that months after learning of the affair, Thomas Kolman was signing off with “love ya bro” in text exchanges with Kolman. The couple even invited Nunez to a Thanksgiving dinner at Linda Kolman’s brother’s house a few days before Thomas Kolman turned up dead.
“It seemed that he accepted the situation,” Albanese told jurors. “It seemed he was willing to give it time hoping that Linda would make up her mind and choose between him and the defendant.”
By November 2011, Albanese argued, Linda Kolman had decided to stay with her husband and break off the relationship with Nunez. Albanese told the jury that email exchanges between the Kolmans showed that they were both concerned about how Nunez would handle the breakup. On Monday, Nov. 28, Albanese said, the couple exchanged emails and made plans for Linda Kolman to meet with Nunez and if not break up with him, at least explain that she was struggling with the decision.
Describing the circumstances of Kolman’s death, Albanese said that he and Nunez spent the night of Nov. 28, 2011 exchanging text messages while watching a New York Giants-New Orleans Saints football game at their respective residences. Albanese said that forensic evidence would show that 62 other text messages exchanged between the two men later that night had been erased from Kolman’s phone, which was found in the car next to his body.
Albanese said video from a nearby Kohl’s store showed Kolman’s car pulling into a remote section of the Planet Fitness parking lot around 4:40 a.m. on Nov. 29, 2011. A short time later, a second car pulls up, parks alongside Kolman’s for about 30 minutes and then pulls off. Albanese said that evidence would show that the vehicle next to Kolman’s was Nunez’s white 2010 Nissan Pathfinder. Albanese said that while the make and model of the car would not be evident in the Kohl’s footage, Nunez’s SUV had a telltale defect. Albanese said that she would introduce expert testimony linking the defect visible in the footage to Nunez’s vehicle.
Kolman’s body was discovered by Linda Kolman the next day after she became concerned when she couldn’t reach him and went to the gym where he typically worked out in the morning. Kolman’s body, according to Shargel, was found in the driver’s seat, with the seat in a full reclining position and Kolman’s pants and belt undone. A medical examiner would later rule that his death was caused by “acute Midazolam poisoning.” Albanese told the jury that Midazolam is a powerful sedative unavailable over the counter or by prescription but commonly used in clinical settings. In February 2012, cops searched Nunez’s office and seized a computer that showed an Internet search for the drug.
The defense rebuts
In his opening, Shargel attacked the both the motive and the evidence offered by Albanese. Shargel, a well-known defense attorney with New York City based Winston Strawn Associates, said contrary to the prosecution’s claims, there was no impending rift between Linda Kolman and Nunez. Shargel read aloud from what he said were passionate emails sent by Linda Kolman to Nunez, and a monthly anniversary card she sent him on Nov. 16, just a few weeks before Thomas Kolman’s death. Shargel said that Thomas Kolman not only accepted, but approved of the relationship.