Ex-husband testifies in death of his former wife in Monaca in 1979

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The second day of the trial of a 1979 Beaver County cold case closed this afternoon with testimony from the victim’s estranged husband, as well as the woman he was seeing at the time.

Brittany Smith, assistant district attorney for Beaver County, was blunt in the question she posed to Scott Walsh, 57, asking him: “Did you kill your wife?”

“I did not,” Mr. Walsh said.

It is a different man named Scott who is on trial.

Gregory Scott Hopkins, 67, a former Bridgewater councilman who goes by his middle name, has been charged with criminal homicide in the death of Catherine Janet Walsh, a 23-year-old Monaca woman.

Legally separated from Mr. Walsh at the time of her death, Walsh was living alone. Her parents discovered her, strangled, on Sept. 1, 1979.

Mr. Hopkins was charged in January 2012 with criminal homicide after investigators say his DNA was discovered on Walsh’s bed sheet, her nightgown and the rope around her wrists.

Mr. Hopkins, through his attorney James Ross, has maintained his innocence. His DNA should be at the scene because the two had sex a few times in her bed the summer before her death, Mr. Ross said.

The trial, before Judge Harry E. Knafelc, is in its second day and is expected to last up to two weeks. Other witnesses called by the prosecution include friends who were with Walsh the night before her death, police investigators who were at the scene and forensic pathologists who examined the body.

Mr. Walsh described the last time he said he saw his wife, the day before her death, and said they separated because they were having financial difficulties.

He told Mr. Ross that the two had argued earlier that summer, but said that the day before her death they had greeted each other warmly, and that she had signed his old high school yearbooks that day, saying she loved him.

Mr. Walsh stopped by her house Sept. 1 to drop off a support check and keys he thought were hers, dropping them through the front door when he knocked and she didn’t answer.

Later that day, when her father called to say that she was dead, Mr. Walsh said his first guess about her fate was suicide.

“I initially thought she may have taken her own life, after thinking of the yearbooks,” he said.

He said he has been questioned by police and has cooperated for three decades.

Also testifying this afternoon was Eileen Rowan, then a 17-year-old Monaca high school student who was seeing the 23-year-old Mr. Walsh.

She testified that she went to Mr. Walsh’s home that night around 2 a.m. for less than an hour, then called him again at his home to say she had returned to hers.

Earlier in the day, retired Pennsylvania State Trooper Richard Matas testified he saw no visible semen stains when he investigated the scene in Monaca in 1979.

Not on the rope that bound the hands of Catherine Janet Walsh, 23.

Not on the sheet she lay on top of or the one that covered her.

Not on the nightgown she wore or on her skin.

And not on the handkerchief tied tightly around her neck, strangling her.

“Maybe because there was nothing there?” said Mr. Ross.

But Mr. Matas that subsequent reports, which showed Mr. Hopkins’ DNA at the scene, said otherwise.

Mr. Hopkins was charged with criminal homicide in January 2012, after DNA testing not available in 1979 showed DNA from seminal fluid matching his was found on the rope around Walsh’s hands, the back of her nightgown and the sheet that covered her body.

Mr. Matas said he used gloves while collecting evidence in 1979.

On Monday, Andrew Gall, the former Monaca patrolman who was the first to respond to the scene, testified that 30 years ago, police did not use gloves.

Mr. Ross, in starting his cross examination of Mr. Matas, showed him a picture from the crime scene that showed an ungloved hand.

Mr. Matas said it may or may not have been his, but said regardless, the photo was taken after evidence collection.

Mr. Ross raised other questions about the evidence collected.

Fingerprints were found on the passenger side window glass of Walsh’s car that did not match hers, but no match was found and no fingerprints were requested from suspects, Mr. Matas said.

Mr. Ross, showing a photo of Walsh’s bedroom that showed a trash can and a tissue beside it, asked Mr. Matas why it was not collected for evidence.

At the time, Mr. Matas said, he did not think it was evidence.

“In hindsight, perhaps I made a mistake,” he said.

Later, responding to questions from Frank Martocci, the assistant district attorney for Beaver County, Mr. Matas said in the decades since Walsh’s death, evidence collection had evolved to include consideration of DNA.

“DNA was not even remotely thought of in 1979,” he said.

The trial, being heard by a jury of five men and two women, is expected to last two weeks.

The trial is scheduled to resume Thursday morning.


Kaitlynn Riely: kriely@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1707. First Published November 13, 2013 11:02 AM


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