DNA evidence questioned in 1979 Monaca slaying


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The same evidence that warmed up a decades-old cold case is now slowing it down.

A trial was scheduled to start Monday in the Beaver County Courthouse for Gregory Scott Hopkins, 66, the former Bridgewater councilman charged in the 1979 homicide of a Monaca woman after a DNA test, not available at the time of the death, was used to tie him to the scene.

But it will likely be postponed, due to a dispute over the use of a report completed by forensic pathologist Cyril H. Wecht.

Mr. Hopkins, who operated a construction and snow removal business headquartered in Beaver County, has been lodged without bond in the Beaver County Jail since January, when he was charged with homicide in the death of Catherine Janet Walsh, 23.

Walsh, who was divorced and living alone at the time, was found strangled in the bedroom of her first-floor duplex. She was discovered facedown in her bed, wearing a nightgown, with her arms tied behind her back by a white bathrobe rope.

The Beaver County district attorney office's case hinges on the DNA evidence found in seminal fluid left on the back of Walsh's nightgown, on the rope tied around her hands and the bed sheet that covered her body.

That DNA matches a sample taken from Mr. Hopkins, but his attorney, James Ross of Ambridge, has argued in court that Mr. Hopkins' DNA should be there, because he and Walsh were having an affair that ended the summer before her death Sept. 1, 1979.

Mr. Hopkins, through his attorney, has entered a plea of not guilty. He told police he was with friends preparing for a pig roast at the time of Walsh's death.

According to court documents, Dr. Wecht's report states that the fact that the DNA was found only on the bed sheet, the back of Walsh's nightgown and on the rope around her wrists makes it "extremely unlikely" that the DNA was left during earlier sexual encounters with Walsh.

Dr. Wecht also argues in his report that the location of the DNA places Mr. Hopkins on the bed on top of Walsh at or around the time of her death, and he gives his opinion that she died due to "strangulation during sexual activity."

But Common Pleas Judge Harry E. Knafelc, in an opinion issued Nov. 5, declared Dr. Wecht's expert report and testimony inadmissible. His conclusions lacked scientific basis, were "too vague and imprecise" and were "speculative in nature," Judge Knafelc wrote.

The district attorney's office appealed the order to exclude the report and testimony to the state Superior Court on Nov. 14.

Mr. Ross filed a motion Friday requesting a bond hearing for Mr. Hopkins while the prosecution's appeal is pending. A hearing date has not been set.

neigh_west

Kaitlynn Riely: kriely@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1707.


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