Jailhouse witnesses testify as 1999 homicide trial takes bizarre turns

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The seemingly unending stream of bizarre twists continued in court Thursday as a well-known jailhouse witness claimed that John Minch confessed to killing his ex-wife, and Minch, who is representing himself, accused the assistant district attorney trying the case of prosecutorial misconduct.

Mr. Minch, 46, of Cameron, W.Va., is accused of stabbing to death Melissa Groot, 29, in her Bethel Park home on May 6, 1999.

A hair fragment found in her hand went unexamined until 2007 and was later matched to Mr. Minch through mitochondrial DNA. He was arrested in 2009.

After going through a series of defense attorneys, Mr. Minch decided to represent himself, and over the course of his six-day trial, he has often struggled to keep on track or hammer home to the jury the points he wanted to make.

So on Thursday, it came as no surprise when he entered into evidence a letter he wrote in October to the prosecutor. It was the same letter that she tried to get in on Wednesday, and which he vehemently argued against.

In it, Mr. Minch accuses assistant district attorney Lisa Pellegrini of failing to turn over discovery in his case and then lying to a judge about it.

"Now there is 100 percent proof that you deliberately ignored a court order to turn over exculpatory evidence and made the decision to lie in court in order to avoid turning over that evidence," he wrote.

Mr. Minch then went on a rant about how Ms. Pellegrini's career was ruined.

"I sincerely hope you enjoyed your career as an attorney, because it is OVER," he wrote. "How many other defendants have you railroaded?"

Mr. Minch, who has been described by Groot's parents as arrogant and a know-it-all, went on to say, "I can't wait to embarrass you at trial. When you lose to a pro-se defendant who graduated high school with a 2.5 GPA, you will be a complete laughing stock, along with probably being disbarred."

He concluded with: "It warms my heart to know how utterly ruined you are going to be when this case is over. I will bask in the pleasure of that moment for the rest of my life."

He called Ms. Pellegrini an obscenity, and under his name wrote "soon to be acquitted" with a smiley face.

Mr. Minch has made no secret that he despises Ms. Pellegrini, and throughout the trial, there have been additional sheriff's deputies in the room providing security.

He told the jury in his opening statement last week that he believed he had been framed in the case. And he is expected, in his closing slated for this morning, to repeat the same.

For his part of the case, Mr. Minch called only two witnesses.

One of them, an inmate at the Allegheny County Jail, was called to counter three other jailhouse witnesses called to testify for the prosecution.

David Kacprzyk, who was convicted of possessing child pornography, testified that he has always heard Mr. Minch profess his innocence.

Kacprzyk said he was approached by detectives in September seeking information about Mr. Minch. He remembered specifically speaking to Allegheny County homicide Detective Lane Zabelsky.

"He said he would put a word in for my judge and get my sentence reduced," Kacprzyk told Mr. Minch. "I told him that I knew nothing of the case. You have never confessed to me. I didn't have any information."

That testimony directly contradicted that of Sean Ball, who said Mr. Minch did confess to him and that detectives promised him nothing in exchange for his testimony.

Ball, whose record in the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas includes 26 arrests dating back to 1996, previously testified against one of the defendants in the shooting of Clairton police Officer Jim Kuzak. He also is actively testifying in two other homicide trials.

He said Mr. Minch told him he never intended to kill his ex-wife.

Instead, he said Mr. Minch went to the woman's home that day to talk to her, but they began to argue, and she threatened to call the police on him.

"He never planned to kill her or nothing. He just wanted to talk to her to try to work things out with her."

Instead, Ball continued, Mr. Minch took a butcher knife from the kitchen and stabbed Groot in the bath tub.

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