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Ex-trooper gets life in Blairsville dentist's slaying

| Tuesday, June 2, 2009

A former state policeman convicted of the murder of a Blairsville dentist was sentenced Monday to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Kevin J. Foley, 44, of White, Indiana County, was convicted of first-degree murder March 18 for the slaying of Dr. John Yelenic, who was found slashed and stabbed to death in his home April 13, 2006.

Foley was living with Yelenic's estranged wife, Michele, at the time.

Foley did not speak during the sentencing hearing before Indiana County President Judge William Martin. His attorney, Richard Galloway, said he will appeal.

Galloway professed Foley's innocence, saying his client would be vindicated upon appeal. The attorney said extensive pretrial publicity kept Foley from receiving a fair trial.

"Mr. Foley continues to maintain his innocence and looks forward to post-trial proceedings vindicating him. With the case in the media spotlight, it made it difficult to receive a fair trial in Indiana County," Galloway said.

Martin disagreed, saying the evidence presented during the eight-day trial supported the first-degree murder conviction.

Martin said he found it troubling that Foley betrayed the oath of his badge, "attacking Mr. Yelenic inside his own home with a knife while the dentist was watching television."

The judge said he believed the crime, "committed with extreme physical cruelty," was motivated by "greed."

"It would be evil and reprehensible for any human being to commit this crime, but the fact you are a state policeman is incomprehensible," Martin said to Foley.

Martin also heard statements from six of Yelenic's friends and family members. Michele Yelenic was not in the courtroom.

At the time of Yelenic's death, he and Michele were embroiled in a bitter divorce. Yelenic was supposed to sign final divorce papers the morning his body was discovered.

Yelenic's cousin, Mary Ann Clark of Blairsville, told Martin that Yelenic's murder "began long before April 13, 2006 ... with Michele Yelenic making false charges of child abuse against John."

She alleged that Foley was able to use his position as a state trooper to "torment" Yelenic.

"John wanted a wife and family, which he thought he found with Michele and his son, Jay Jay. Instead, John's final days were marked with an empty heart and a house full of unopened gifts for the son Michele kept from him," Clark said.

Clark referred to testimony during the trial and in court documents that "Michele and Kevin wanted him dead, as she stood to get over $1 million from his insurance and estate."

A friend of Yelenic's at the University of Pittsburgh dental school, Dr. Maria J. Tacelosky of Hazelton, told Martin that she believes an investigation is warranted into the actions of local and state police into Yelenic's death. She said her views of state police have been dramatically altered in the three years since the murder.

"I have a difficult time looking at a state trooper without wondering why didn't any of them have the guts or morals to report what was happening. Only after those involved in trying to hinder this investigation are behind bars will the answers we seek be given and the Blue Code of Silence broken," Tacelosky said.

Outside the courthouse, Senior Deputy Attorney General Anthony Krastek, who prosecuted Foley, commended the work of state police Cpls. Randall Gardner and Brian Zimmerman of the Greensburg barracks. He maintained that the investigation took so long because police needed more evidence, which came in the fall of 2007 when the FBI laboratory in Virginia discovered traces of Foley's DNA beneath Yelenic's fingernails.

He praised the verdict and indicated he believes the conviction will stand on appeal.

"I think the fact that Kevin Foley's DNA was found under the victim's fingernails trumps everything else," Krastek said.

Chuck Ardo, spokesman for Gov. Ed Rendell, said he anticipates state police will investigate how the murder probe involving a trooper was handled.

"It's our understanding that the family has asked for an internal affairs investigation into how this investigation was handled. I can tell you that state police routinely conduct investigations after one of their own is involved after legal proceedings are concluded, and we anticipate that will occur in this case as well," Ardo said.

Bruce A. Edwards, president of the Harrisburg-based State Troopers Association, yesterday read a prepared statement crediting "the hard work and dedication" of state police, including Gardner and Zimmerman, with bringing Foley to justice.

"Through the hard work and dedication of our Pennsylvania State Police, today a murderer will receive justice and face his sentencing. They focused on the facts of the case and treated it like any other homicide," Edwards said.

Edwards urged the community to continue to support the men and women troopers at the Indiana station, where Foley worked.

"Like all troopers, they serve justice, no matter the outcome. Our dedicated troopers from Indiana station continue to work to enforce the law, just as they have done for more than 100 years," he said.

Clark intends to pursue a $1 million civil wrongful death lawsuit she filed against Foley, Michele Yelenic and several of Foley's co-workers in U.S. District Court in Pittsburgh. The lawsuit claims that Foley's co-workers hindered the investigation.

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