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Prosecutors want court to allow Wecht report in 1979 slay case

| Thursday, July 25, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

Whether a Beaver County jury will hear a key prosecution report that places a former Bridgewater councilman at the scene of a 1979 strangling is in the hands of a state appeals court.

A three-judge Superior Court panel heard arguments on Wednesday stemming from a report from well-known forensic pathologist Cyril Wecht, who was hired by Beaver County prosecutors to analyze evidence in their case against former Councilman Gregory Scott Hopkins.

Authorities in January 2012 charged Hopkins with killing Catherine J. Walsh, 23, of Monaca. Her father found her in her bed, bound and strangled with a bandana, on Sept. 1, 1979. Hopkins, now 67, has pleaded not guilty.

Beaver County prosecutors want the Superior Court to overturn a ruling by Common Pleas Judge Harry E. Knafelc, who ruled that Dr. Wecht's report, which says Hopkins was present at the time of Walsh's death, would not be allowed at trial.

“What he's trying to do is put my client at the scene of the crime by using conjecture and speculation,” Hopkins' attorney James Ross told the judges.

Wecht fired back Wednesday against Ross' argument.

“That is absurd, negative hyperbole to say the least. It's personally insulting, but I can live with that. It's professionally incorrect,” Wecht said. “My opinion is based on careful review and analysis of the case. In all cases there's some degree of subjective analysis.”

Judge Paula Ott asked Ross if Knafelc's ruling went too far by excluding all of Wecht's testimony.

“No, the trial court didn't go too far,” Ross said. “What Dr. Wecht is saying is that my client was laying on this woman.”

The Superior Court will rule on the appeal at a later date.

Hopkins, who is free on bond, attended the hearing but left without speaking to reporters.

Walsh's brother, Francesco Caltieri, 53, of Somerset, Ohio, said he has been in touch with the district attorney's office.

“I'm all that's left of the family. All we can hope for is that our side made a better argument than the other side and hope things work out the way they're supposed to,” Caltieri said. “So far my brother, mother and father all went to their graves without this (being resolved).”

Walsh's father, Peter J. Caltury, died in June.

Prosecutors say DNA evidence found on Walsh's nightgown, the white rope that bound her hands behind her back and the bedsheet that covered her body links Hopkins to the crime. When police interviewed Hopkins seven hours after Walsh was found, he acknowledged that he and Walsh had been lovers but said it had been a month since they had been intimate in her home, according to the criminal complaint.

Ross has not put his client at the scene but suggested that Walsh died during a consensual, but dangerous, sex act.

Assistant District Attorney Frank Martocci said Wecht's testimony helps prove Hopkins was on top of Walsh at the time of her death.

“The idea that a forensic pathologist cannot give his opinion goes against decades of (court) precedence,” he said.

Outside the courtroom, Martocci said the report is important.

“I think (Wecht) helps us prove the case,” Martocci said.

Bobby Kerlik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7886 or bkerlik@tribweb.com.

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