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District Attorney: Inmate's letter alleges cop killed Rachael DelTondo

Megan Guza
| Wednesday, July 11, 2018, 6:33 p.m.

A Beaver County inmate facing assault and robbery charges received a plea deal in exchange for testimony about a letter sent to him in jail alleging that a police officer murdered former elementary school teacher Rachael DelTondo, the county’s top prosecutor said.

Investigators are trying to determine the authenticity of the letter.

DelTondo, 33, was shot at least 10 times at close range in her mother’s driveway on May 13.

The letter to inmate Wayne Cordes, 21, of Aliquippa was “allegedly written by somebody outside the jail and identified a police officer as having committed the homicide,” according to Beaver County District Attorney David Lozier.

Lozier wouldn’t identify the alleged writer of the letter. He also declined to say whether the letter identified the officer or for which department the officer worked.

The district attorney said Cordes ripped the letter in half and gave one of the pieces to a cellmate and kept the other.

Investigators found both pieces of the letter after executing a warrant in multiple locations, including Cordes’ cell, Lozier said. Paperwork related to that warrant and others obtained in the Del­Tondo investigation are under seal.

Cordes was being held in Beaver County Jail on charges related to an Oct. 26, 2017, incident in Aliquippa. Charges included multiple counts of aggravated assault, conspiracy, robbery, theft, simple assault and receiving stolen property, and six of them were felonies, court records show.

Under the deal with prosecutors, Cordes pleaded guilty Monday to one count each of misdemeanor simple assault and misdemeanor theft.

In exchange, Cordes agreed to “testify truthfully regarding the letter,” Lozier said.

Cordes’ defense attorney, Gerald Benyo Jr., did not return messages.

The arresting officer in Cordes’ assault and robbery case was Aliquippa police Sgt. Kenneth Watkins, according to court documents.

Watkins was placed on administrative leave in the wake of DelTondo’s murder because his 17-year-old daughter, Lauren, was with DelTondo minutes before the killing.

DelTondo, Lauren Watkins and 25-year-old friend Tyrie Jeter went out for ice cream earlier that night.

Lauren Watkins dropped off DelTondo at her mother’s Buchanan Street home at 10:44 p.m. Four minutes later, police received 911 calls reporting shots had been fired. Officers found DelTondo dead in her mother’s driveway.

Authorities have not publicly identified any suspects. Lozier said investigators have interviewed “dozens and dozens” of witnesses and logged more than 400 hours of overtime in the case.

Those interviewed have included Lauren Watkins; Tyrie Jeter; Jeter’s younger brother, Sheldon Jeter Jr., who had been romantically involved with DelTondo; and at least two other former love interests, former fiancé Frank Catroppa, 36, and recent boyfriend Rashawn Bolton, 32, a half-brother of the Jeters.

Aliquippa’s police department has been in turmoil since the killing.

Acting Aliquippa police Chief Robert Sealock last month recused the department from the DelTondo investigation, providing no reason but pledging to help the investigating agencies.

Sealock was the department’s second acting chief named since DelTondo’s slaying. Chief Donald Couch was placed on leave for unspecified reasons, and Assistant Chief Joseph Perciavalle III was named acting chief. Perciavalle was suspended two days later when authorities said he’d sent explicit sexual material in a group message that included Lauren Watkins.

Those charges stemmed from a text message conversation in May that came to light after Lauren Watkins turned over her cellphone to Aliquippa police as part of the investigation.

New charges were filed Tuesday when investigators discovered what they said was a secretly recorded conversation with Couch on Perciavalle’s phone. Couch confirmed to investigators he had not consented to being recorded as required by state law.

Megan Guza is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Megan at 412-380-8519, or via Twitter @meganguzaTrib.

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