The mother of a young woman stabbed to death in 1999 had to face the accused killer Wednesday as he questioned her in his homicide trial.
The interaction between Mary Michael and John Minch ranged from contentious to bizarre to angry -- and for a moment, even complimentary during the 55 minutes he cross-examined her on the stand.
Mr. Minch, 46, of Cameron, W.Va., is representing himself in trial for the May 6, 1999, stabbing death of his ex-wife, Melissa Groot, who was found in the bathtub of her Bethel Park home.
Mr. Minch wasn't charged in the case until 2009, after a hair fragment found in Groot's hand went untested for several years. When it finally was examined, there was a match to Mr. Minch through mitochondrial DNA.
Ms. Michael, Groot's mother, told the jury that she did not approve of her daughter's relationship with Mr. Minch, which started when the girl was 15, and Mr. Minch was almost 18.
"It was your attitude that made you not worthy of my daughter," she said. "You were arrogant. You were pigheaded. You thought you knew everything. You were possessive to the point where every time I saw you, you had your arm draped around my kid.
"You were cocksure. You were argumentative. That's why I didn't like you, John."
Ms. Michael held her own as her former son-in-law questioned her, losing her composure only rarely.
During direct examination by Assistant District Attorney Lisa Pellegrini, Ms. Michael said she immediately suspected Mr. Minch as her daughter's killer.
As Ms. Michael ran up the front steps of her daughter's home the afternoon after she learned something had happened, a police officer stopped her from going inside. He told her they suspected that Groot committed suicide.
"I said, 'my daughter was murdered,' " Ms. Michael said. "I said 'it was her husband.' "
When officers made a move toward David Groot, Ms. Michael corrected herself.
"'No, not this husband,'" she told them. "It was her first husband, John Minch."
"Did you always suspect the defendant?" Ms. Pellegrini asked.
"Yes," Ms. Michael answered.
At one of the few lighter moments during her direct examination, Ms. Michael referred to the 1970 Chevy Blazer Mr. Minch drove as the "Minchmobile.
"The defendant was excellent at fixing cars," she said. "He knew his stuff."
Mr. Minch and Groot were married in 1986. She went on to finish high school and earn a bachelor's and master's degree.
According to testimony, Groot began an affair with David Groot in 1996. Mr. Groot lived in Erie at the time, and they met online. She visited him on weekends.
"She was traveling back and forth to have sex with her boyfriend while she was still living with me, her husband?" Mr. Minch asked.
Ms. Michael replied, "Missy was afraid of you John."
The prosecution, which is expected to rest its case today, also called two witnesses from the Allegheny County Jail Wednesday.
Both men, who said they were not promised anything in exchange for their testimony, told the jury that Mr. Minch confessed to them repeatedly.
The men said they did not approach the prosecution, but that investigators asked them in recent months if they could share any information
Paula Reed Ward: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-2620. Twitter: @PaulaReedWard. First Published November 13, 2013 2:06 PM