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Police seize dentist's will

| Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Police investigating the gruesome slaying of Blairsville dentist Dr. John Yelenic have taken into evidence his will, which was to be updated next month after his divorce was finalized.

Police on Tuesday confirmed that the will was seized from Yelenic's safe.

Yelenic, 39, was found dead April 13 in his Indiana County home. Police said he bled to death.

Details about the will remain guarded, but Yelenic's attorney said he was in the process of altering it.

Effie Alexander, who was handling Yelenic's divorce from his estranged wife, Michele, of Blairsville, said the will is just one part of the doctor's estate that is being questioned by police.

"He was in the process of completing a new will, but he had not finalized it to my knowledge. We talked about drafting a new will repeatedly, but I'm not sure that he did it," Alexander said.

Investigators have declined to reveal the will's contents or release details about the killing. Blairsville police Chief Donald Hess yesterday suggested that Yelenic may have known his killer. Hess said that while it appeared that Yelenic's injuries were the result of a violent struggle, there were no signs of forced entry into his home.

"We don't necessarily believe somebody went there specifically to kill him," Hess said.

Police are compiling a list of witnesses to interview or re-question in the investigation. Hess would not say whether Michele Yelenic had been or will be questioned.

At the time of his death, John Yelenic and his wife had been embroiled in a messy divorce, court records indicate. But it appeared that several years of nasty litigation between them finally had abated.

According to court documents, Yelenic was killed less than a week after he and his estranged wife signed divorce documents in which they agreed to end their eight-year marriage. Michele Yelenic signed a divorce consent on April 7. Her husband signed a day later.

John Yelenic died before the divorce could be finalized, an action that must be signed by a judge.

Indiana County Judge Carol Hanna is scheduled to conduct a hearing May 18 in response to a request Yelenic had filed to have the divorce finalized.

"What he wanted more than anything else in the world was his divorce. He was anxious to get it all over with," Alexander said.

Vanessa Browne-Barbour, an associate dean at the Duquesne University School of Law, said it is not unusual for divorce proceedings to continue after the death of the husband or wife.

She said that because other factors, such as the estate and financial details, typically still must be worked out, a judge has the discretion to continue with the divorce action.

Neither Michele Yelenic nor her attorney could be reached for comment yesterday.

For the Yelenics, a divorce would end what had become a contentious battle over money and custody of their 7-year-old son.

The Yelenics were married on Dec. 31, 1997, in Las Vegas. According to court records, they separated four years later. John Yelenic filed for divorce in 2002. His wife filed divorce papers the following year.

The couple apparently agreed to joint custody of their son during that time.

Documents on file at the Indiana County Courthouse suggest that over time the divorce grew increasingly nasty.

Michele Yelenic was cited by Judge Hanna for contempt of court in October 2004 and ordered to pay a $1,000 fine. The contempt charge stemmed from Michele Yelenic's removing her son from a public school and placing him in a private, parochial school without first seeking her husband's approval.

In May 2005, Michele Yelenic filed for a protection from abuse order against her husband, claiming that he sexually abused their son during a visit with him a month earlier.

According to court documents, Indiana County Children and Youth Services investigated and ruled the complaint was unfounded. In court documents, John Yelenic contended that his wife fabricated the abuse allegations as a means to alienate him from his son.

In October, Hanna ordered the Yelenics and their son to attend family counseling.

Meanwhile, the divorce was moving forward. John Yelenic asked the court to finalize the divorce because he and his wife had lived apart for more than two years.

But Michele Yelenic seemed to have second thoughts. She filed a legal notice in which she opposed the divorce, claiming their marriage was "not irretrievably broken."

Court records indicated that in January the Yelenics and their lawyers met informally and reached a handshake agreement about how to divide the family assets that would enable the divorce to move forward.

That agreement called for Michele Yelenic to receive a reduction in monthly child-support payments from $3,875 to $1,337 from her husband. John Yelenic agreed to pay his wife more than $54,000 for her share of several properties the couple jointly owned as well as a portion of his dental practice.

Michele Yelenic also was to receive more than $38,000 from an annuity they held, while her husband agreed to pay for her Blairsville home and for their son's medical expenses and school tuition.

Finally, just five days before John Yelenic died, the divorce appeared to be a done deal after both he and his wife signed consent decrees agreeing to end their marriage. Now it will be up to a judge to determine whether his final wishes will be honored.

"This case is anything but typical," Alexander said.

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