Verdict ends 34-year odyssey for victim's brother



The not knowing, for three decades, who had killed his big sister and why, was the "horrible" part, said Francesco Caltieri.

The trial, in which 23-year-old Catherine Janet Walsh's murder by strangulation was shown in pictures and discussed in testimony, was the "painful" part, he said.

But the verdict Friday, in which a Beaver County jury decided that Gregory Scott Hopkins, 67, a former Bridgewater councilman, was guilty of third-degree murder in the Monaca woman's 1979 death?

That, finally, after 34 years, was something close to closure, said Mr. Caltieri, 53, of Somerset, Ohio.

"You know, you hate to say joy, but I have to say joy," he said, when asked his reaction to the jury's verdict, delivered Friday morning after six hours of deliberation over two days. "It's the first time that I think my sister's had the opportunity to feel peace and be at rest."

The long-sought joy, found on one side of the courtroom, was absent from the other.

Mr. Hopkins, who testified Tuesday that he was not involved in Walsh's death, had no visible reaction as the verdict was read Friday. His wife, Karen, who has sat behind him throughout the trial, leaned forward in her chair, crying.

The jury's decision was third-degree murder, which, as Judge Harry E. Knafelc explained Thursday, is a conviction saying that Mr. Hopkins killed Walsh with malice. The jury of five men and seven women decided he was not guilty of first-degree murder, which is a homicide in which the perpetrator had specific intent to kill with malice.

The third-degree murder conviction could mean a prison sentence of up to 40 years for Mr. Hopkins.

After the verdict was read and the jury dismissed, Mr. Hopkins hugged his family members, then was handcuffed and taken out of the courtroom into custody by sheriff's deputies.

James Ross, the attorney representing Mr. Hopkins, couldn't speculate on why the jury made the decision it made.

"Anytime you try a case, your fate is in the hands of the jury," said Mr. Ross, who was trying his final case before assuming a position as a Common Pleas judge in the new year. "Our jury system has spoken, and we have to respect that. We don't necessarily agree with them, but we respect it."

He said he will file a motion for judgment of acquittal, and that Mr. Hopkins will have the option to appeal the decision.

It was a long trial, lasting eight days and involving about 40 witnesses, and an even longer case.

But, said Beaver County District Attorney Anthony Berosh after the verdict: "We never gave up the belief or the hope that justice some day would come."

Getting to that point, however, was still a challenge.

"The difficulty with this case, and it was a difficult case, was turning back the clock," he said. "And we were able to do that."

The clock started on Sept. 1, 1979, when Walsh's parents discovered their daughter dead in the bedroom of her Monaca home. She lay face-down on her bed wearing a blue nightshirt. Her hands were bound behind her back with rope from a bathrobe, and tied around her neck was a handkerchief. At the time, there were no signs of semen stains or recent sexual activity.

But in the past three years, technology not available in the 1970s matched Mr. Hopkins's DNA to semen found on the back of the nightshirt, the robe tie and the sheet that covered her.

Mr. Ross argued that the DNA was there because the two had sex a few times in the summer before her death, and called as witnesses two friends and Mr. Hopkins' then-girlfriend and now ex-wife, who said Mr. Hopkins did not leave the house where all four slept the night of Walsh's death.

But Frank Martocci, who along with fellow Beaver County assistant district attorney Brittany Smith tried the case, told the jury that the evidence said Mr. Hopkins entered Walsh's Monaca home that night 34 years ago, where he tightly bound a rope around her hands and a handkerchief around her neck. He straddled her as she lay on her bed, then tightly pulled the handkerchief, strangling her, and ejaculated on her back, Mr. Martocci said.

Both Mr. Martocci and Ms. Smith said they believed the jury made its decision based on the scientific evidence presented, especially the DNA.

"The key point to the DNA is the location of it," Mr. Martocci said.

At times, the discussion of DNA made the courtroom resemble a classroom. Always in the front row was Mr. Caltieri and his wife, Lois. Not with them, however, were two people who for decades advocated for the daughter they knew as Janet. Although Walsh's mother died a decade ago, her father, Peter J. Caltury, missed the trial by just a few months, dying this summer at the age of 92.

Mr. Caltieri said he has reflected on the journey that took him from a September day in Monaca to a November one in Beaver.

"The way I've looked at this is: I wasn't able to be there to fight for her at that moment she needed somebody to fight for her," he said. "But by God I will be here on my knees if I had to fight for her now."


Kaitlynn Riely: kriely@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1707. First Published November 22, 2013 11:27 AM


Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

You have 2 remaining free articles this month

Try unlimited digital access

If you are an existing subscriber,
link your account for free access. Start here

You’ve reached the limit of free articles this month.

To continue unlimited reading

If you are an existing subscriber,
link your account for free access. Start here