Caseworker describes suspect as both angry and threatening

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A caseworker who supervised John Minch's visits with his young daughter in 1998 testified against him Friday, recalling a frightening and angry man who paced the room denouncing authorities and threatening his ex-wife and mother-in-law.

Bryan Schrecengost attended eight to 10 of those visitations between Mr. Minch and his daughter, who was 3 or 4 at the time.

"As I recall most often, these visits became more about the agency's authority in the case," he said.

It was clear there was animosity between Mr. Minch and his ex-wife, Melissa Groot, he said.

"I remember specifically one incident when he was very agitated, and he told me that he was going to kill her."

So, on May 6, 1999, as Mr. Schrecengost drove past 5314 Park Ave. in Bethel Park, and saw a swarm of police cars and EMS workers, he stopped.

That's when he learned that Groot, who was 29 and attended the church he did, had been stabbed to death in her bathtub.

Mr. Schrecengost immediately sought out a police officer.

"A young mother was killed who I knew. I was very troubled by that," he said. "My suspicions about the case were very clear."

Mr. Schrecengost told the police he believed Mr. Minch was violent and unstable.

"Did his actions cause you to fear him?" asked assistant district attorney Lisa Carey.

"Yes, they did," he answered. So much so, Mr. Schrecengost continued, that he went out that night and bought a handgun.

"I lived fairly close to the victim, and I feared Mr. Minch would find my family."

Mr. Schrecengost explained to the jury that Allegheny County's Office of Children, Youth and Families was called in because of alleged physical abuse by Mr. Minch against his daughter.

The little girl had sustained facial injuries, including black eyes and what the caseworker described as "hemorrhaging in her eyeballs."

On direct examination, Mr. Schrecengost said that he reported the threats by Mr. Minch to his supervisor when they occurred.

But on cross-examination by the defendant, who is representing himself, the former caseworker admitted he could find no records in the files that shows the threats were ever recorded.

"It is your testimony I threatened you, a government worker, inside a government building, and no police report was ever made of this alleged incident?" Mr. Minch asked.

"That's correct," Mr. Schrecengost answered.

Later, Mr. Minch continued, "Would your supervisors take it seriously if death threats were made in this office?"

"I would think so," the witness answered.

"Yet there are no written reports about that?" Mr. Minch asked.

"It appears not."

Although investigators immediately keyed in on either Mr. Minch or Groot's husband, David Groot, as suspects, no arrest was made in the case for nearly 10 years.

Mr. Minch was charged in April 2009 after investigators discovered that a hair fragment found in Melissa Groot's hand the day of her death had never been tested.

It was, and the DNA matched that of Mr. Minch.

Mr. Groot testified briefly Friday afternoon and is expected to retake the stand when the case resumes on Tuesday.

However,, the prosecution is expected to call its DNA expert first thing Tuesday morning because she will be unavailable after that.


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

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