Former Bridgewater councilman Hopkins sentenced in 1979 cold case
Beaver County man could spend up to 16 years in prison
February 26, 2014 11:17 PM
Gregory Scott Hopkins is escorted into the Beaver County Courthouse for his sentencing hearing in the 1979 murder of Catherine Janet Walsh.
Catherine Janet Walsh
By Kaitlynn Riely / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
More than 34 years after Catherine Janet Walsh's parents discovered her strangled on the bed in her Monaca home, her killer finally received his sentence.
Gregory Scott Hopkins, a former Bridgewater councilman who turns 68 early next month, will serve eight to 16 years in state prison, ruled Common Pleas Judge Harry E. Knafelc on Wednesday morning before a nearly full courtroom in the Beaver County Courthouse.
Justice, though decades late, was at last served, said Francesco Caltieri, now 54 but a teenager when his big sister, a woman he knew as Janet, was killed. Though it was Hopkins who was headed to prison, it was her family that received the longer sentence, Mr. Caltieri said.
Former councilman sentenced in cold-case murder
A former Bridgewater councilman convicted of third-degree homicide last fall in the 1979 killing of a Monaca woman was sentenced to eight to 16 years in prison. (Video by Andrew Rush; 2/27/2014)
"For the family that's left behind, it's a life sentence," he said Wednesday, after Hopkins, shackled and wearing an orange-and-white jumpsuit, had been led away. "The pain never goes away."
Much of the pain for many years was because Walsh's family did not know who had killed her.
The 23-year-old's body was discovered Sept. 1, 1979. Her hands were tied behind her back with a rope, and she had been strangled with a handkerchief, but otherwise there were no clues as to who caused her death, and the case went unsolved.
Then a few years ago, technology not available at the time of Walsh's death revealed DNA from seminal fluid on Walsh's nightgown, the rope around her hands and the sheet that covered her. Investigators said the DNA matched a sample taken from Hopkins, who told police that, although he had a sexual relationship with Walsh that ended a few weeks before her death, he was not responsible for her murder.
Hopkins was arrested in January 2012 and charged with Walsh's murder. His trial, lasting eight days and involving about 40 witnesses, ended in his conviction of third-degree murder in November.
Three months later, he was back in the same courtroom, this time to hear his sentence. He heard, too, from two family members and one friend of Walsh's, who urged Judge Knafelc to give Hopkins the maximum sentence for his crime -- 10 to 20 years.
Susan Niedergal of Beaver, a childhood friend of Walsh's who served as maid of honor at her wedding, called Hopkins a "monster."
"It changed me, who I am as a person," said Ms. Niedergal, about the death of a friend she said was like a sister. "There's a pain that never goes away."
For Scott Walsh, too, the pain of losing the woman who was his wife has been unrelenting, he told the court. The Walshes were estranged at the time of Janet's death, and for a time, Mr. Walsh was considered a suspect.
But in the sentencing hearing, Mr. Walsh focused on the happiness of the earlier days with the woman he described as his high school sweetheart, showing the judge pictures of the two of them from the proms they attended together.
"There's not a day that goes by that I don't think about it," said Mr. Walsh, who said he has suffered from anxiety and depression since the 1979 crime. "It's with me all the time."
It's also never left the mind of Mr. Caltieri, Walsh's younger brother.
"That event ruined my life," he told the judge.
Mr. Caltieri said he became paranoid, not knowing who had killed his sister.
His family, torn apart by Walsh's death, grew smaller over the years as they waited for some answer to her death. His mother, who "became a hollow shell" after her daughter's death, died about a decade ago, Mr. Caltieri said. His older brother, Joe, died more than two years ago, he said. And last summer, after Hopkins was arrested but before the trial began, his father died at age 92.
Facing his sister's killer in the courtroom Wednesday, Mr. Caltieri said his faith told him the right thing to do was to pray for Hopkins and to forgive him.
"I'm trying to be a good Catholic. I'm trying to be a good Christian," said Mr. Caltieri, looking at Hopkins. "But I'm not praying for you. You, sir, can go straight to hell."
Two Beaver County residents spoke in defense of Hopkins, including Dennis Bevington, a Bridgewater councilman who said Hopkins helped make his home handicap-accessible, free of charge, a few years ago when Mr. Bevington's 21-year-old son fell from a roof and was paralyzed.
Judge Knafelc said he considered the victim impact statements as well as letters he had received from Walsh's family and from the family, friends, neighbors and business associates of Hopkins, in making his decision. The judge said Hopkins should serve eight to 16 years, with credit given for the time he served in jail already, which is about a year.
Hopkins also was ordered to pay a $10,000 fine, $3,000 to Walsh's family for funeral costs and court fees for the prosecution.
Chad Bowers, one of the attorneys for Hopkins, said his client, who expressed remorse for Walsh's death in a pre-sentencing letter but has always maintained his innocence, was hoping for a lesser sentence.
"We'll be fighting on," he said, adding that an appeal is planned.
Frank Martocci, assistant district attorney for Beaver County, said he was "satisfied" with the judge's decision, even though he asked for a sentence of 10 to 20 years, the maximum that could be given for the 1979 crime. Today, the maximum for the same crime is 20 to 40 years, he said.
It wasn't as long as he would have liked, but Mr. Caltieri said he was still pleased by the sentence.
"When the sentence was read, in my head I said, 'We got him, Jan, he's done.' "