YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) — For years, the woman found behind the Austintown truck stop in 1992 on state Route 46 by a man walking his dog didn’t have a name.
There was no way to know she had two loving daughters, was smart and good with numbers, very detailed, and had a life.
After she was identified in 2013 as Sharon Kedzierski, 43, of Pembroke Pines, Fla., it was still a mystery as to who killed her, and still unknown who the people in her life were who loved and cared for her and agonized over fate.
Wednesday in Mahoning County Common Pleas Court, one of her daughters, Katherine Kedzierski Kuring, got to face down the man prosecutors said took her mother’s life, Samuel Legg, 52, and tell him what kind of person her mother was and how her death had haunted her for years, mainly because she had no idea until 2013 what had happened to her mother.
“I’m Sharon’s living legacy,” she told Legg.
Judge John Durkin Wednesday declared Legg incompetent to stand trial and that his competency can not be restored after a report by mental health professionals who evaluated him reached the same conclusion.
Although prosecutors and defense attorneys stipulated to the report’s findings, defense attorneys maintained that Legg was innocent of the death of Kedzierski, who was found April 9, 1992, behind the Clarkins Drive truck stop that is now a warehouse by a man who was walking his dog.
Because defense attorneys did not stipulate to Legg’s guilt, prosecutors questioned Austintown Police Detective Sgt. Rob Whitted, who took over the investigation as a cold case, in order to try and establish that Legg was responsible for Kedzierski’s death.
Under questioning from Assistant Prosecutor Michael Yacovone, Whitted recounted the timeline of when Kedzierski was first found, the DNA evidence that was taken from her body and how that evidence was linked to her two daughters, but not until 2013.
Whitted said he relied, in large part, on investigative work done by former Mahoning County Coroner’s Investigator Courtney Bouchie, who also worked the death as a cold case beginning in 2010 until the time she left the coroner’s office.
After Kedzierski was identified, the process then began to look for her killer. The DNA collected at the crime scene was again submitted to a national and state database of criminal offenders. Whitted said they received a hit that it matched the DNA of a relative of Legg’s.
When police investigated further, they found that Legg was a suspect in a rape in Medina County in 1997 where DNA was also collected. The two samples were tested, and they matched.
Other jurisdictions were also closing in on Legg at the time for other unsolved murders of women in manners similar to the way Kedzierski was killed. He was charged with a cold case rape in Medina County in February of 2019, and a few days later, a grand jury here indicted him for Kedzierski’s death.
Whitted interviewed Legg in Medina County as investigators from four other departments, including one in Illinois, also talked to him. Whitted said that during the interview process, he basically admitted to the crime and several others.
Whitted said it is not known why Kedzierski was in the area or how she got here, but that Legg, a truck driver, had said he had other women in his truck before.
Under cross examination from defense attorney Mark Lavelle, Whitted said he believes Legg killed Kedzierski because his DNA was on her and the DNA was on parts of her that a person would have washed off.
He did admit that Legg seemed mentally unstable when he interviewed him.
Judge Durkin ruled that there was sufficient evidence to find Legg committed the crime.
When Kuring spoke, she looked right at Legg before reading a statement from a piece of paper. She said she filed a missing person’s report for her mother in 1992 and never imagined it would take over 20 years before she learned what happened to her.
“I speak to you for my mom, who is with me in spirit, and with every mother, daughter and sister of each of your victims.”
Not having a mother was hard, Kuring said. It created awkward moments in social situations and led to crippling self-doubt at times before she knew her fate because she wondered if she had done something to make her mother leave and not tell anyone where she had gone.
“Over the course of two decades, I masqueraded as a functioning woman who didn’t have a mother to share life events with,” she said. “As life pulled me through, I was preoccupied with the absence of my mom.”
Along with her sister Christine, the two pooled their meager resources to find out what happened to their mother. They hired a private detective. For years, even after she was married to her husband Mike, she would scan credit reports, financial records, anything to find a trace of her mother.
She never found anything.
“Sharon Kedzierski doesn’t exist in public records,” Katherine said.
She even thought for a time her mother was in the Witness Protection Program, and she would wonder for years what she did to cause her to leave.
“Why wasn’t she trying to find me?” Katherine said she would think of her mother.
When she found out her mother was murdered, and then years later, that the suspect was a truck driver, she would scan the trucks on the interstate, scoping out the interiors, wondering if the drivers were the ones who took her mother away from her. She would think: “Did you kill my mom? Do you know who killed my mom?”
She wasn’t the only one. Her sister on an opposite coast played the same game.
Katherine told Legg he stole not just her mother’s life, but robbed her of a future of college graduations and grandchildren and weddings and family gatherings.
“My mom was robbed of experiences she didn’t know she would lose,” Katherine told him.
She said she hopes Legg is haunted by the faces and memories of her mother and the other women he is accused of killing.
“My life is forever altered by you, but not defeated by you,” she said.
Legg will stay in a mental health facility, who will submit reports every two years to the court on his condition. Should his competency ever be restored, he will be tried for aggravated murder.
Legg was also found incompetent to stand trial for his rape charge in Medina County.
After court, Katherine said her mother would make her Halloween costumes and even her majorette costume. She was good with numbers as a bookkeeper for several years and even ran a local H&R Block.
“It was the 70s and 80s,” Katherine said of growing up with her mom. “She took us to horseback lessons, made our Halloween costumes.”
“She was very detail-oriented,” Katherine said of her mother. “I wish I had her beautiful hands. She was very poised.”
Her mother divorced from Katherine’s father in 1989, and it took a toll, Katherine said. That was also the last year she saw her mother, Katherine said. It was a time of transition for the entire family, and Katherine and Christine were also growing up and moving on as well.
“The divorce was pivotal in her life, and she had to find her own path,” Katherine said. “She went her way, and we went ours.”
She said when she filled out the missing person’s report in 1992 in New Jersey, the report was never filed, which was why it took so long to identify her mother. She, along with Christine, submitted their DNA to the NAMUS, or the National Missing And Unidentified Persons System, which was how they were able to confirm her identity.
Katherine has two kids of her own and her husband, who, when told he was Katherine’s rock, smiled and said, “I’m her sounding board. She’s her own rock.”
More stories from WKBN.com: