Defense calls its first witnesses in 1979 murder case in Beaver County

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Frank Martocci, an assistant district attorney in Beaver County, pushed hard, but Larry and Georgeann Musgrave didn't budge.

The Economy couple, who testified separately Monday in the homicide trial of Gregory Scott Hopkins, gave the same account of what happened in the early hours of Sept. 1, 1979, the night Catherine Janet Walsh was killed in her Monaca apartment.

On that night, they said, their friend -- and Mr. Musgrave's then-employer and current business partner -- never left the model home where they all slept.

The phone never rang, they said. There was no sound of a car leaving or returning to the gravel driveway. And no footsteps fell on the stairs -- about six feet from where the couple slept -- that were the only route to exits from the house.

"Absolutely not," Ms. Musgrave said.

On the fifth day of the trial, taking place in the Beaver County Courthouse with Judge Harry E. Knafelc presiding, the jury heard from the first witnesses called by James Ross and Chad Bowers, the attorneys representing Mr. Hopkins.

The Beaver County district attorney's office rested its case Monday morning after calling a final witness, a DNA analyst for the Pennsylvania State Police, to discuss the evidence that led to Mr. Hopkins' arrest.

His arrest, in January 2012, came more than three decades after Walsh, a 23-year-old Monaca woman who lived alone, was killed. Walsh was found on her bed, wearing only a nightshirt and laying facedown covered by a sheet. Her hands were bound behind her back with a rope from a bathrobe, and around her neck was a handkerchief, strangling her.

There was no evidence of sexual activity, but in the past three years, technology not available in the 1970s revealed semen on the rope, the top sheet and the nightshirt, which later was shown to match a DNA sample taken from Mr. Hopkins.

Mr. Hopkins has maintained his innocence, and Mr. Ross has argued that his DNA should be there, since the two had sex in her room two or three times, with the last time a few weeks before her death.

On Monday, in addition to calling two witnesses to speak to Mr. Hopkins' character, Mr. Ross also called the Musgraves to testify to his alibi.

He spent the start of Labor Day weekend in 1979 with the Musgraves and his then-girlfriend, Dianne St. George, preparing for a party for the employees at his company, Colony Square Builders, said Mr. Musgrave, 64.

The two men met in the 1970s, when both were volunteer firefighters, and then became friends, and later co-workers, when Mr. Hopkins started his construction and snow removal business and made Mr. Musgrave its secretary and treasurer.

The business ran out of a split-level model home in Center, Beaver County, and that's also where Mr. Hopkins began to live in 1978 or 1979, when he separated from his wife, Mr. Musgrave said. And it's where the four of them -- Mr. Hopkins, Ms. St. George and the Musgraves -- slept in the early hours of Sept. 1, to prepare for the party, a pig roast.

The group went to sleep around midnight or 1 a.m., with the Musgraves sleeping on the living room floor and Mr. Hopkins and his girlfriend taking the water bed in the bedroom.

Earlier testimony in the trial indicated Walsh likely died around 5 a.m. Mr. Musgrave said he woke up around 5:30 or 6 a.m. to start the fire for the pig roast with Mr. Hopkins.

That morning, Mr. Hopkins was "completely normal," Mr. Musgrave said.

"Wanted to get up and get going and get the fire started," he said.

Mr. Martocci repeatedly pressed both Musgraves on their account of that night's events.

He focused especially on separate written statements the Musgraves gave to police in 2011, both saying that Mr. Musgrave and Mr. Hopkins spent the night turning the pig over the fire, even though Mr. Musgrave said earlier -- and both have said since -- that it didn't start until the morning. Both said it was a mistaken description.

And Mr. Martocci asked why the couple hadn't spoken with investigators since shortly after Mr. Hopkins' January 2012 arrest, and why they had hired an attorney.

Mr. Musgrave said he had told police his account multiple times, and that police spent more than two hours at his home the night Mr. Hopkins was arrested, telling him, he said, to change his story.

"I kept telling them it was not a story. It was the truth. It was how it happened."

The trial will resume this morning.


Kaitlynn Riely: kriely@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1707. First Published November 18, 2013 1:21 PM


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