Ex-husband to stand trial 14 years after killing in Bethel Park

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On Tuesday, more than 14 years after Melissa Groot was found stabbed to death in a Bethel Park bathtub, her ex-husband will stand trial accused of killing her.

John D. Minch has said police framed him in the May 6, 1999, stabbing death of Ms. Groot, 29. After all, it took authorities a decade to charge him with the crime after discovering a fragment of a hair taken from the crime scene that was then kept in storage.

Mr. Minch was charged with homicide and burglary in April 2009 after he was taken from his home in Cameron, W.Va. He was 41 at the time.

Police documents showed that Mr. Minch became a suspect early in their investigation. But only from testing in 2007 and 2008 did mitochondrial DNA evidence arise suggesting the inch-long hair caked with blood and with no root attached could have come from him.

Mr. Minch's trial is to begin at 9 a.m. before Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Jeffrey A. Manning.

Police first looked at Ms. Groot's new husband, David Groot, whom she had married about a month after she and Mr. Minch were divorced in March 1998. A solid alibi convinced them to look elsewhere.

Ms. Groot had told family members she had been receiving hang-up calls for months from a pay phone not far from her new house. She couldn't prove it, but she was convinced the calls came from Mr. Minch.

The two had been married 11 years. They had a daughter, who was 4 years old at the time of Ms. Groot's death. Ms. Groot had custody but allowed the child to live with her parents, saying they had bonded.

Mr. Minch has said that he did not know where his ex-wifewas living, but the route he told police he took from the South Hills to Downtown convinced investigators he would not have gone that way unless he had been by her house.

He took a polygraph test -- inadmissible in Pennsylvania courts -- that indicated deception when he answered "no" to questions including, "Did you help plan Melissa's death?" and "Did you, yourself, stab Melissa?"

Then there was the little bit of hair. The piece was one of 10 hairs taken from the crime scene the day of the stabbing and stored in a lab. It was not until March 2008 that investigators carrying a search warrant met Mr. Minch in West Virginia, where he had moved after Ms. Groot's killing, and took DNA samples from his hair and a swab of his cheek.

No root was attached to the hair fragment, which meant testers were not able to use the more accurate nuclear DNA test. The mitochondrial DNA test performed showed it was possible, but not certain, that the hair came from Mr. Minch.



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