Father of Bethel Park woman killed in 1999 takes stand, answers ex-husband's questions

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From the beginning, Frank Michael told the Allegheny County Common Please Court jury, he didn't want his daughter to date John Minch.

The girl was just 15; Mr. Minch was 18.

"From the time you two first met, I asked her not to associate," Mr. Michael testified Thursday. "I felt from day one, John Minch was arrogant and shady."

Mr. Minch is on trial for the slaying of Mr. Michael's daughter, Melissa Groot, on May 6, 1999. Her body was found in the bathtub of her Bethel Park home, stabbed repeatedly.

Mr. Minch was not arrested until 2009, after a hair found in Ms. Groot's hand that had gone untested for years came back as a DNA match to him.

According to assistant district attorney Lisa Pellegrini, Mr. Minch and Ms. Groot had gone through a bitter divorce and custody battle over their daughter, who was 5 at the time.

Mr. Minch is representing himself, and on Thursday spent much of the morning cross-examining his former father-in-law.

Mr. Minch met Ms. Groot at a bowling alley, where Mr. Minch worked in maintenance, in 1985, Mr. Michael said.

As the older man let the words slide from his mouth, "bowwwlling alley," Mr. Minch noted the disdain, asking his former father-in-law if his working at the bowling alley was "beneath him."

Mr. Michael never directly answered the question, instead saying, "When I met you, you're demeanor was terrible."

Even though he tried to stop his daughter from seeing Mr. Minch, Mr. Michael said, the girl ended up living with him and getting married at age 16.

Judge Philip A. Ignelzi called a recess during the cross-examination and instructed Mr. Minch to remain professional.

"If people start getting too excited, and too rambunctious, we're going to have problems," the judge said, later adding, "Please do not mistake this court's patience for foolishness or stupidity."

When court resumed after the break, Mr. Minch's tenor changed considerably, and there were no more confrontations.

Mr. Michael simply answered the defendant's questions, revealing that Ms. Groot finished high school and went on to earn bachelor's and master's degrees.

Also testifying Thursday was the lead detective in the case, Terry Hediger, who is retired from the Allegheny County Police Department.

The detective talked extensively about video surveillance obtained from a bank ATM the morning of Ms. Groot's death that shows a vehicle similar to that driven by Mr. Minch about a quarter-mile away from the woman's home.

During cross-examination, Mr. Minch had Detective Hediger explain his theory of how the crime occurred. He said he believed Mr. Minch waited outside the Groot home that morning until the victim's husband left for work.

Then, he said, he believed Mr. Minch went to a nearby pay phone, called the house to see whether Ms. Groot answered the phone, and then returned to kill her.

Mr. Minch repeatedly interjected phrases such as, "Ah, that's your theory," or "That's an interesting theory."

Paula Reed Ward: pward@post-gazette.com, 412-263-2620 or on Twitter @PaulaReedWard.

Paula Reed Ward: pward@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2620. Twitter: @PaulaReedWard. First Published November 7, 2013 2:41 PM

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