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For victims families, suspect's arrest date doesn't matter

| Saturday, May 1, 2010

Marking the date

Other arrests on the crime anniversary:

• On April 10, police in Waterbury, Conn., arrested a 36-year-old man on the eve of the anniversary of the murder-robbery of a downtown bar owner in 1998.

• Last year, Delores Laster, a first-grade teacher in Winter Garden, Fla., for 40 years, was arrested on the 21st anniversary of her husband's shooting as she was leaving for work.

• In 2008, state police arrested Joseph Geiger, 44, of Pottsville, on the 23rd anniversary of a boy's disappearance. The 13-year-old boy had left home on his bicycle in 1985; his body was found four months later. Last year, Geiger pleaded guilty to manslaughter for fatally punching the teen. Geiger said the victim stole his marijuana plants.

Mary Kachonik has ached for that day to come ever since the Nov. 12, 2005, shooting death of her son, Steve, in Loyalhanna Township.

That day, as Mary refers to it, is when an arrest is made in the unsolved slaying of 38-year-old Steve Kachonik. Someone used a 12-gauge shotgun to shoot him out of a tree stand where he was buck hunting on the family's property.

For the family and friends of three women who were gunned down in their auto glass business, also in Loyalhanna, the wait was not as long. Kevin L. Murphy, 49, of Conemaugh Township was arrested on the first anniversary of the shooting deaths of his mother, sister and aunt, resolving some questions about the puzzling murders at Ferguson Glass LLC on April 23, 2009.

Both Westmoreland County District Attorney John Peck and the Pennsylvania State Police commander, Maj. Robert Lizik, termed it "coincidental" that Murphy was arrested on the anniversary date.

While the anniversary of a violent crime is traumatic for many survivors, victims' rights advocates and family members alike said an arrest is more a relief than a trigger for heartache, regardless of the date.

Kachonik, who knows the Murphy family, doubts they were disturbed by the timing of the arrest.

"I don't think it happening on the anniversary mattered at all," she said. "I really hope it happens in (Steve Kachonik's) case, and I wouldn't care what day it occurs.

"I do know that I used to be able to look out of my window up to his house every day and see Steve going in and out, and I really miss that. Whenever I needed him, I used to be able to just call out there ... and I can't do that any more," she said.

Karen Darkow, director of victims services for the National Center for Victims of Crime in Washington, said anniversaries "can be extremely difficult for some victims of violent crimes."

"Survivors of homicide victims, victims of rape, assaults, even car accidents -- some report heightened anxiety, depression and intrusive memories of the incidents on the anniversary date. And it's not all that unusual for people who have experienced these traumatic experiences to experience some of these symptoms without consciously recognizing it," Darkow said.

"On the other hand, you would be very surprised at the resiliency of most victims of violent crimes. I've had some who come to me and said the anniversary of the tragedy came and went and they don't even realize it until after the fact, and I take that to mean they are beginning to heal," she said.

Darkow said many victims may feel that an arrest, no matter the day, is another step toward healing.

"They could find some strength and meaning in it coming on the anniversary," she said.

Cindy Lang, Pittsburgh area chapter leader of the Parents of Murdered Children organization, doubts that the timing of an arrest would matter to survivors.

The Murrysville resident heads the chapter of the regional group that supports survivors of homicide victims. Her daughter, Dana Pliakas, was a junior at Franklin Regional in 2003 when she was beaten, forced to strip, marched down a stairway and shot in the head in North Braddock in 2003.

Her killers -- Brittany Williams, 26, of Penn Hills and Rodney Lee Burton, 21, of North Braddock -- are serving life sentences.

"I don't think an arrest coming on the anniversary would be difficult at all. To tell you the truth, it would be of great relief to the survivor, I think," Lang said.

Dr. John R. Cencich, the director of the Institute of Criminological & Forensic Sciences at California University of Pennsylvania, said arrests on the crime anniversary are not uncommon. Sometimes arrests are timed to show that victims are not forgotten, he said.

"Suspects are sometimes arrested on the anniversary of the crime, particularly on old, unsolved cases," he said. However, arrests for violent crimes "that are of a more recent occurrence are usually based on the sufficiency of the evidence or strategic investigative reasons."

Lizik, who described the Kevin Murphy investigation as "long and tedious," said troopers relied on Peck to determine when there was sufficient evidence to file murder charges.

Murphy is accused of shooting his mother, Doris Murphy, 69; his sister, Kris L. Murphy, 43; and his aunt, Edith Tietge, 81. All three worked at the auto glass repair business that Kevin Murphy operated.

Shortly after the killings, Murphy moved his girlfriend and her three children into the home in Conemaugh Township he had shared with his mother and sister all his life. Authorities said Murphy carried on a two-year secret relationship with the girlfriend, who was married at the time, and killed his family because they disapproved of the relationship.

Peck said state troopers from the Kiski Valley station and Greensburg worked hundreds of hours to build the case on circumstantial evidence "because there was no eyewitness."

"The charges were filed after we accumulated sufficient evidence to prove (Murphy's) participation in these murders beyond a reasonable doubt," Peck said.

Peck said some information contained in the affidavit of probable cause filed by Trooper Robert Depew to make the arrest was not acquired "until last month." He declined to give specifics.

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