Judge refuses to give divorce to dead doctor

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INDIANA, Pa. -- Lawyers for a slain dentist tried but failed yesterday to have his pending divorce finalized by a judge.

The case, first of its kind in Pennsylvania, centers on John Yelenic, who was attacked and killed April 13 in his Blairsville home.

Police say Dr. Yelenic probably knew the person who killed him, but they have not identified a suspect.

Dr. Yelenic, 39, died the day before he was to sign his divorce papers and have them notarized. All five original copies of the paperwork were in his house when he was killed, said his lawyer, Effie Alexander. One of those documents was released by homicide investigators and made available at yesterday's hearing.

Common Pleas Judge Carol Hanna reviewed it but declined to grant Dr. Yelenic's divorce. She says she is not sure she has any standing in a case involving a dead man.

The judge gave Ms. Alexander and her colleague, Sam Reich, two weeks to give her written arguments on why she has the power to grant a posthumous divorce.

Ms. Alexander said the divorce case was important to Dr. Yelenic.

"Personally, I want John's divorce decree to go through because it was what he wanted," Ms. Alexander said. "Things had not been very nice for him during the last year."

Michele Yelenic, 34, accused her husband of abusing their 7-year-old son in 2005. Social workers found no grounds to support that allegation, so it was discounted.

After that, a divorce settlement was negotiated. Lawyers for each side shook on the deal, only to see Michele Yelenic change her mind.

She told lawyers she was not satisfied with the financial terms. She wanted her husband to continue paying her $3,875 a month after the divorce, as he had during their separation. That undercut the agreement, which would have dropped Dr. Yelenic's payments to $1,337 a month, all as child support for their son.

Dr. Yelenic's lawyers moved forward anyway, asking Judge Hanna to implement the settlement that both sides had initially agreed on.

Then, to the surprise of the lawyers, Michele Yelenic relented April 6 and signed the divorce papers. Dr. Yelenic received the documents for his signature soon after, but somebody killed him before he completed them.

Blairsville Police Chief Donald Hess said he is aware that Dr. Yelenic was about to end a bitter, years-long divorce proceeding. Whether that fact is critical to the criminal case or an eerie coincidence is part of the investigation.

Evidence from inside Dr. Yelenic's house still is being processed at a crime lab, Chief Hess said yesterday during an interview.

He also said he just received the final autopsy report, but declined to specify Dr. Yelenic's wounds. Police and the coroner have said only that Dr. Yelenic bled to death after being attacked.

Chief Hess has assigned one man from his 10-member department to devote all his time to the case. His assignment is to be thorough, so as not to make a mistake that would let a killer slip away.

"We have not eliminated suspects, but there are some people we are perhaps less interested in than we were before," Chief Hess said.

Though Judge Hanna did not grant the divorce, she approved the settlement agreement that was worked out by the Yelenics and their lawyers. It spelled out custody terms and financial payments to Michele Yelenic.

She will receive the last of a $54,000 payment for property interests she had with her husband. Throughout their separation, the couple sold off other properties and shared the money. Dr. Yelenic gave his wife 60 percent of the proceeds in those cases.

Milan Simonich can be reached at msimonich@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1956.


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