Beaver County suspect takes stand in 1979 killing

Hopkins denies involvement in '79 homicide

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Gregory Scott Hopkins took the stand Tuesday in his own defense and told jurors that he did not kill Catherine Janet Walsh 34 years ago.

Sharing the most intimate, and some of the most quotidian, moments of his life, Mr. Hopkins told jurors where he was in the early hours of Sept. 1, 1979.

Around midnight or 1 a.m., he testified, he went to sleep in the model home he stayed in. He lay beside his girlfriend, Dianne St. George, and awoke around 5:30 or 6 a.m. to prepare for a pig roast he was hosting there for his employees.

It was only hours later, he said, that he learned Walsh, whom he had slept with a few times over the summer, had been killed.

Asked by his defense attorney, James Ross, if he had anything to do with Walsh's death, Mr. Hopkins, 67, replied: "Absolutely not."

The former Bridgewater councilman's testimony came on the sixth day of his trial at the Beaver County Courthouse. He has been charged in the Sept. 1, 1979, death of Walsh, 23, who was discovered that day by her parents in her Monaca apartment, wearing only a nightshirt and lying facedown, covered by a bed sheet.

Investigators said she had been strangled with a handkerchief, her hands bound with a bathrobe rope.

There was no evidence of sexual activity, but in the past three years, technology not available in the 1970s revealed semen on the rope, the top sheet and the nightshirt, which later was shown to match a DNA sample taken from Mr. Hopkins. He was arrested in January 2012.

Mr. Hopkins' assertion that he didn't leave the model home was supported Tuesday by his then-girlfriend, Ms. St. George, 64, of Orlando, Fla. The pair wed in 1983 and divorced in 1999, both testified.

She told jurors that she and Mr. Hopkins slept together that night on a water bed in the home, and that she didn't hear him get up. She described the bed as cold and clammy, and the movement of someone getting up would have roused her, she said.

Frank Martocci, assistant district attorney, repeatedly pressed her on cross-examination, asking if she was sure he didn't leave.

"I definitely believe he was with me the entire night," she testified.

Mr. Hopkins told jurors he met Walsh when she and her then-husband, Scott, bought a house next to one belonging to a woman who cleaned homes for Mr. Hopkins' company, Colony Square Builders. The two later bonded during or just before Walsh's separation with her husband.

On the stand Tuesday, he described going to Walsh's house around 10 or 11 p.m. on several occasions in the summer of 1979. He parked on a side street about a block away, he said, and entered through the back door.

"Sometimes we would sit and talk a little bit," he said, but the two never went on any dates and hardly socialized.

Mr. Hopkins testified that their last contact was a week or so before her death, when they talked briefly by phone.

Mr. Martocci asked Mr. Hopkins why he didn't say immediately that he'd had sex with Walsh when interviewed by Monaca police Sept. 1, 1979, arguing he fessed up only after police said they knew he had been involved with her.

Mr. Hopkins testified that when asked by police, he told them that he had a sexual relationship with Walsh and said that he alluded to it earlier in the interview with them.

Prosecutors also used Mr. Hopkins' own testimony to raise questions of his character.

He told jurors Tuesday that on multiple occasions he had been unfaithful to women he was dating or married to, although he took issue with the assistant DA's initial suggestion that happened in all of his relationships.

"So over 34 years, Mr. Hopkins, you have become accustomed to living lies. Is that not accurate?" Mr. Martocci said.

"A good portion of those years, probably yes," he said.

Also on Tuesday, Michael Panella, a staff pathologist at Quest Diagnostics called as an expert witness for the defense, testified that while Mr. Hopkins' DNA was found on the back of Walsh's nightshirt, the bathrobe rope and the sheet that covered her, a special light that can detect bodily fluids found other stains.

Those could include saliva and sweat, among other things, but because those areas weren't screened, Dr. Panella testified, it's unknown if another person's DNA was present.

Dr. Panella said linking Mr. Hopkins to Walsh at the time she was killed "based on just these areas of DNA alone" made him "very, very worried."

His statements contradicted those of forensic pathologist Cyril Wecht, who testified Friday that he found it "hard to believe" that Mr. Hopkins' DNA was found in those specific areas due solely to an earlier sexual encounter.

Mr. Hopkins testified that the two had sex in the bedroom three or four weeks before her death, which Mr. Ross has said explains why his client's DNA was found there.

The trial will resume this morning.


Molly Born: mborn@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1944 or on Twitter @borntolede.


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