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Trial for '81 murder may be in January

A Jacksonville, Fla., man will learn later this month whether he will stand trial in January for the 1981 slaying of his wife in Somerset County.

During a brief conference Tuesday, Somerset President Judge John M. Cascio told Joseph Policicchio, the attorney for John D. Dawson, 61, and District Attorney Jerry Spangler they will meet again Dec. 29 to determine whether Dawson's trial can fit into the January trial term.

Policicchio and Spangler said they are ready to proceed, but questioned whether the trial could fit into the three-week jury trial window that begins Jan. 10 in view of other cases scheduled.

Dawson's trial is expected to take at least a week. He is accused in the Nov. 9, 1981, slaying of his wife, Kathleen Dawson, 30.

On Friday, Cascio ruled prior testimony from a deceased witness, which linked Dawson to the murder 29 years ago, can be read into evidence at trial.

Cascio rejected a defense motion to dismiss charges against Dawson because of the August death of a key prosecution witness.

Dawson is charged with killing his wife, a nurse, during her drive home from work to their Jennerstown residence. Her body was discovered in her burning car in Conemaugh Township.

Policicchio had argued that the testimony of Dawson's nephew, Duane Schmidt, at a June 4, 2009, preliminary hearing should be ruled inadmissible because Schmidt, 56, died of natural causes in August.

Cascio ruled that Schmidt's preliminary hearing testimony could be read to jurors because it was made under oath and was subject to cross-examination by Policicchio. Cascio said state law permits the admission of such testimony if there was "adequate opportunity to cross-examine the witness."

Schmidt came forward in March 2009 with evidence against his uncle.

At the hearing, Schmidt testified that Dawson had burn marks on his face and smelled of smoke hours after Kathleen Dawson's body was found.

Authorities say Dawson had financial and romantic motives to kill his spouse of nine years before he moved to Florida to live with his mistress. He changed his insurance policy on the day of the slaying and received $25,968 as a result of his wife's death, court records show.

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