IDAHO FALLS — Vernal DeOrr Kunz is fighting back. On Thursday he was in a Bonneville County courtroom asking District Judge Bruce Pickett to reconsider a lawsuit against private investigator Philip Klein.
The lawsuit was the result of a soured relationship between the Kunz family and Klein. The family had hired the Texas-based private investigator in 2016 to look into the disappearance of Vernal’s son, DeOrr Kunz Jr. But the family didn’t like his findings, particularly after Klein began making public accusations and statements about Vernal and baby DeOrr’s mother, Jessica, and assigning some blame to the parents for the disappearance.
“We’re good people. We love our son. We’ve done everything we can,” Kunz tells EastIdahoNews.com. “People say we’d move mountains, we’d do this, we’d do that – well, you’ve never been in our situation. You don’t know what it’s like. You don’t know what we’ve been through.”
In 2017, Kunz and his father, Dennis Kunz, sued Klein for breach of contract, infliction of emotional distress, libel, slander and fraud. Kunz claims Klein was lying and in breach of contract.
But earlier this year, most of that case was dismissed after Pickett determined a person “cannot be found liable for expressions of opinion about another person, however unreasonable.”
Now, Kunz’s attorney, Allen Browning, wants Pickett to revisit the issue. They are also talking publicly about the evidence they have to prove their point.
“Vernal is a man that’s been wronged by Mr. Klein and a lot of people listening to Mr. Klein (and) believing his lies,” Browning says.
Browning is referring to Klein’s public statements and a 132-page transcript taken from a private meeting between Klein and the Kunz family in Jan. 2016.
“He told Vernal he was not allowed to have his attorney with him because if Vernal brought his attorney, then Klein wouldn’t tell the family members any information about the investigation into the disappearance of their son,” Browning says.
During the meeting, the transcript shows Klein mentioned he has a good relationship with Quantico. A woman asked, “Who’s Quantico?” Klein responds, “Quantico is the FBI headquarters…They’re going to be flying some people in this week.”
“He said he had access to Jessica’s interviews with the FBI and during the course of those interviews, Jessica was…saying it was all Vernal and that Vernal did everything. That’s false,” Browning says. “Jessica didn’t say anything like that and the FBI would never share interviews with Mr. Klein anyway. They never shared any polygraph information with Mr. Klein.”
The transcript also shows Klein saying:
“I know two FBI agents and I know two people on my staff that think it is possibly a premeditated situation. Because the deal they’re offering to everyone is it’s an accident, people. We’re not going to prosecute you for the accident. We’re just going to say you moved a body when you shouldn’t have. You made a false police report. Ninety days probation, pay us a $250 fine, have a good life and go expunge your record. And they’ve got a judge up there that’s already said he will sign expungements.”
Klein’s assistant then says, “Seriously.” Klein responds, “Seriously. That’s the deal on the table. It doesn’t get any better than that.”
“He’s in no position to say anything like that,” Browning says. “Klein is out there making false statements to the world and they’re absolutely fabrications about failing polygraph tests and about lying repeatedly and changing a story. None of that stuff is true.”
In an email to EastIdahoNews.com, Klein says Browning is taking his statements out of context.
“We, did in fact, have (multiple ) meetings with LEO’s (law enforcement officers) and it was shared with us that Vernal and Jessica failed multiple polygraph tests. In the meetings representatives of the FBI, and County Law Enforcement were in the room,” Klein says.
Click here to read Klein’s entire statement.
Kunz says the PI’s public statements have made his life a living hell – especially to those who make accusations on social media.
“I see the comments. I’ve been called scumbag, I’ve been called murderer, I’ve been called baby killer, I’ve been called all kinds of things,” Kunz says. “How about this – quit judging next time you see things you don’t understand. If it’s on Facebook, you’re not Facebook detectives. You’re not ‘keyboard warriors.'”
Kunz is now working with a different private investigator from North Carolina named David Marshburn. Marshburn was at the court hearing.
He says over the years, he’s helped find 13 missing people and he’s been up to Timber Creek Campground with his cadaver dogs. The dogs hit on something and he’s optimistic they are DeOrr’s remains.
“So far I have not found anything that has led me to believe that Vernal or Jessica had anything to do with it,” Marshburn says. “By the time I got done with the case the first week I was here, I was pretty convinced 100 percent that they had nothing to do with it.”
The Lemhi County Sheriff’s Office has temporarily closed the Timber Creek area in relation to the Kunz case. However, Sheriff Steve Penner has not released any new information about the case and reiterated his office will not release any information based on speculation or unverified facts.
Pickett did not issue a ruling on Browning’s request. It could come in the next few weeks and Browning is optimistic it will be in Kunz’s favor. He says he wants the truth out about Philip Klein and Vernal DeOrr Kunz.
“I’m here for Vernal. Vernal’s a good man. He didn’t do anything wrong. He’s a victim. His son has either been kidnapped or worse. He doesn’t know what happened to his son. He’s a victim here,” Browning says.
Kunz adds, “I still have hope that I’m gonna find my son that he was taken. There’s no evidence that shows I’m wrong. David Marshburn and his amazing dogs – they’re showing me the possibility that at least I may have closure. That (DeOrr) may still be up on the mountain. He’s showing me a possibility that makes sense and it’s not the one I want but it is closure. It does lay my little boy to rest and that is what he deserves.”