The Catherine Walsh Murder Case

     A man kills a woman, does not get caught, and moves on with his life. Then one day, 32 years later, cops knock on his door, put him in handcuffs, and haul the stunned suspect off to jail on the charge of murder. Before 1995, a story…

     A man kills a woman, does not get caught, and moves on with his life. Then one day, 32 years later, cops knock on his door, put him in handcuffs, and haul the stunned suspect off to jail on the charge of murder. Before 1995, a story like this was the stuff of fiction. The advent of DNA technology, however, has made scenarios like this one not only possible, but fairly common.

     In the old days (in the context of DNA science), when a murder investigation petered out, and the trail grew cold, detectives shelved the case, and, except for the victim's family, it was forgotten. Maybe the detective who had tried but failed to solve the murder thought about it every so often. But with dead witnesses, failed memories, lost documents, and no leads, the old murder remained as dead as the victim. With the passage of enough time, even the killer might forget the killing, or pretend it never happened. It used to be said that murder will out, but that was a lie.

     Thanks to the developing science of DNA fingerprinting, old murder cases involving biological evidence such as hair follicles, saliva traces, bloodstains, and semen residue, can now come back to life and haunt killers who thought they had escaped detection. Yes, it's justice delayed, but it's a lot better than no justice at all.

The Catherine Walsh Murder Case

     At noon, on September 1, 1979, Peter J. Caltury, Sr. entered the duplex in Monaca, Pennsylvania where his 23-year-old daughter, Catherine Janet Walsh, lived by herself. He found her dead, lying face-down on her bed with her hands tied behind her back with a bathrobe cord. Dressed in a nightgown, and partially covered by the bed sheet, the victim had a blue scarf wrapped around her neck. When Mr. Caltury called the Monaca Police Department, Officer Andrew Gall responded to the scene.
      It became apparent that robbery hadn't been the motive for the Walsh murder. The doors to the house had been locked when the victim's father checked in on his daughter, and there were no signs of a struggle. Based on these conditions investigators assumed the victim had known her killer.

     Murder was (and is) rare in Monaca, a Beaver County town on the eastern bank of the Ohio River 35 miles north of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The fact Catherine Walsh had been sexually assaulted and murdered in her own bedroom shocked the residents of this small, tight knit community.

     Catherine, a year out of Monaca High School, married Scott E. Walsh in August 1976. In December 1978 he filed for divorce on the grounds she had "violated her marriage vows." Catherine had moved into the duplex after the separation. At the time of her death, however, she was still married to Scott Walsh.

     The Beaver County coroner determined that Catherine Walsh had been strangled to death, and ruled the case a homicide. Detectives questioned, as the obvious suspect, Scott Walsh, the estranged husband. Investigators also interviewed a man named Gregory Scott Hopkins from the nearby borough of Bridgewater. Hopkins admitted he had had a sexual relationship with the married victim, but said it had ended a month before her death.

     Although detectives worked hard on the Walsh murder case, they were unable to acquire the evidence they needed to arrest a suspect. Years passed and the case went dormant. Detectives worked on other crimes and the Walsh case suspects went on with their lives. Gregory Hopkins became a successful building contractor, and in November 2010, was elected to the Bridgewater Borough Council. He married his first wife in 1967 and divorced her in 1980. He married again in 1983, divorcing this wife in 1999. In 2001, he married Karen L. Fisher.

     In 2010, the Pennsylvania State Police, working off a federal grant, re-opened several old homicide cases that featured biological evidence that could be linked to murder suspects through DNA analysis. One of these cold-case investigations included the September 1979 murder of Catherine Walsh. In December 2011, a state forensic scientist took DNA samples from several people, including Gregory Hopkins. After comparing biological trace evidence from the victim's nightgown, the bathrobe cord, and the crime scene bed sheet to Gregory Hopkins' DNA sample, the scientist declared a match.

     On January 29, 2012, detectives arrested Gregory Hopkins at his home for the murder of Catherine Walsh. They booked the Bridgewater Councilman into the Beaver County Jail. Six days later, James Ross, Hopkins' attorney, asked the judge to grant his client bail. The judge, ruling that Catherine Walsh's murder was a non-bailable crime, denied the defendant's request.

     Hopkins' attorney, promising a "vigorous" defense, told reporters that "Mr. Hopkins is a very reputable man in the community, has been in business for 40 years, served on the borough council and I think the arrest comes as a shock to many people." (I'm sure the arrest came as a shock to Mr. Hopkins. He may have been a reputable man before his arrest, but a DNA match in a murder case can suddenly erode a man's respectability.)

     On November 5, 2012, Common Pleas Judge Harry E. Knafelc ruled that the state could not use a report by the well-known Pittsburgh-based forensic pathologist Dr. Cyril Wecht. According to Dr. Wecht, the murder scene DNA evidence revealed that Mr. Hopkins had been in the victim's bed lying on top of her when the murder took place. Judge Knafelc, in ruling Dr. Wecht's analysis inadmissible as evidence, cited insufficient scientific data to back up his expert opinion.

     The Hopkins murder trial got underway on November 10, 2013 in the Beaver County Courthouse. Assistant District Attorney Brittany Smith, in her opening statement to the jury, placed the defendant at the murder scene through his DNA found on the bed sheet, nightgown, and the bathrobe cord tied around the victim's wrists.

     Defense attorney James Ross told the jurors that his client's DNA was at the murder scene because he and the victim had engaged in sex the summer before her death.

     Defense attorney Ross, in his cross-examination of retired state trooper Richard Matas, got the prosecution witness to concede that when he processed the Walsh murder scene, he had not seen semen stains on the body, the bed, or the nightgown. Attorney Ross showed the witness a photograph depicting a bedroom trash can with a piece of tissue beside it. Ross asked the witness why the tissue hadn't been collected as potential evidence. "In hindsight, perhaps I made a mistake," replied the former officer.

     Andrew Gall, the former Monaca patrol officer, testified on cross-examination that he had not worn gloves at the site of the Walsh murder.

     At the close of the prosecution's case which featured the expert testimony of several forensic scientists, the 67-year-old defendant took the stand and testified that he had not been in the victim's apartment when she was murdered. According to Hopkins, the last time he visited her apartment was several weeks before her death.

     On November 22, 2013 the jury of five men and seven women found Hopkins guilty of third-degree murder. Judge Henry Knafelc, on February 26, 2014, sentenced Hopkins to 8 to 16 years in prison.

     In the Walsh case, crime scene mistakes made by the police did not diminish the prosecutorial power of DNA evidence.

     The Walsh case, in a television episode called "Never a Cold Case: Beaver County's 32 Year Long Investigation," was featured on the Discovery network's series "On the Case With Paula Zahn."