Memories of 1979 homicide dim at trial


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Thirty-four years later, the basic memories are intact. Margie Farinacci can remember the girls' night out at a Beaver County bar with her friend, Catherine Janet Walsh, and her two sisters-in-law. She can remember getting a bite to eat together after the bar closed, at the nearby Perkins restaurant, then both leaving at about 4 a.m. to go to their separate homes.

And she can remember the next day, when she learned that her friend and one-time neighbor -- the 23-year-old woman who went by Janet -- had been killed inside her Monaca home.

But asked Tuesday to remember the smaller details -- such as what Walsh ate at the restaurant, where her car was parked and exactly what she told the police in the hours after her friend's body was discovered -- Ms. Farinacci struggled.

"I remember the incident, but from decades ago, it's hard to remember the details," she said.

The difficulty of reaching through the fog of time to recall events and impressions, observations and statements was a chorus echoed repeatedly Tuesday by the witnesses, including Ms. Farinacci, who testified in the Beaver County Courthouse on the first day of the trial of Gregory Scott Hopkins, who is charged with criminal homicide in the 1979 case.

Mr. Hopkins, a 67-year-old former Bridgewater councilman, was charged in the cold case in January 2012, after DNA from seminal fluid found on the back of Walsh's nightgown, on the rope around her hands and on the sheet that covered her body was discovered to be a match.

But Mr. Hopkins, through his attorney James Ross of Ambridge, has maintained his innocence.

Ms. Farinacci, who cleaned houses for Mr. Hopkins' construction company, introduced him and Walsh, but she said Tuesday she had not known that the two were seeing each other, and that on the night before she died, his name did not come up while they were out.

Mr. Ross said Mr. Hopkins and Walsh had sex a few times, but that the last time was a few weeks before Walsh's death.

That means, Mr. Ross said, that Mr. Hopkins' DNA should have been in Walsh's bedroom, even though he said Mr. Hopkins was not there that night. Instead, Mr. Hopkins was staying at a model home his company owned in nearby Center, spending the night with two friends and his girlfriend to prepare for a Labor Day weekend pig roast he was holding for his employees.

Mr. Ross suggested that Scott Walsh, the man Janet Walsh was in the process of divorcing, and Robert McGrail, a Massachusetts drifter who met Walsh at the bar the night before her death, should be considered suspects.

Both men are expected to testify during the trial, said Brittany Smith, one of two Beaver County district attorneys trying the case.

Saying he intended to present a DNA expert as a witness later in the trial, Mr. Ross asked the jury, made up of five men and seven women, to keep open minds about the DNA evidence and ask: "If it's there for 31 years, could it have been there four weeks before?"

But Ms. Smith said the prosecution, which intends to call forensic pathologist Cyril H. Wecht as a witness to testify about the DNA found, would seek to prove "that Gregory Scott Hopkins went there that night, and things went too far."

On Tuesday, by calling as witnesses the three women who went to the bar with Walsh, the patrolman who responded to the homicide call and Beaver County's deputy coroner and pathologist, the Beaver County district attorney's office started to paint the picture of that night and the next day.

It was Peter J. Caltury, Walsh's father, who discovered his daughter around noon on Sept. 1, 1979. Her cause of death was asphyxiation by strangulation, testified Gary Marcus, the Beaver County pathologist who conducted the autopsy. He estimated her time of death as between 5 and 7 that morning. There were no signs of rape, he said, nor did he see visible semen stains.

It was the testimony by Andrew Gall, now the assistant chief of detectives for the Beaver County district attorney's office but then the 25-year-old Monaca patrolman responding to his first homicide call, that offered perhaps the strongest reminders of how much time had passed.

He was the one who walked the jury through the photos taken of the scene, which were in black-and-white and showed Walsh's neatly kept apartment and the way she appeared at the time of her death.

And he noted that although the scene was secured, its contents mapped out and its evidence collected and categorized, none of the police officers wore gloves, he said, as officers do now.

"Nobody wore gloves back in 1979 unless it was winter and you were trying to get your hands warm," he said.


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

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