DANBURY — A Danbury Superior Court judge last week sentenced John Heath, 70, of Bridgewater to serve a 50-year prison sentence for murdering his wife, Elizabeth, 32, in April 1984, at their Poverty Hollow Road home in Newtown.
Following the murder, Mr Heath concealed his wife’s body in a dry well located beneath the floor of a barn at the 89 Poverty Hollow Road property.
It was not until April 2010, when the current owners of the property were renovating the barn, that Ms Heath’s skeletal remains were discovered wrapped in bedding inside the dry well.
Supervising Assistant State’s Attorney Warren Murray on December 18 called for Judge Robin Pavia to sentence Mr Heath to between 53 years and 60 years in prison for the murder.
Special Public Defender Francis O’Reilly, representing Mr Heath, urged that his client receive the minimum sentence for the murder conviction, which is 25 years. The maximum sentence is 60 years.
Mr O’Reilly said that an appeal will be filed on behalf of Mr Heath in seeking a new trial on the murder charge.
A 12-member jury of eight men and four woman convicted Mr Heath on October 16, following a three-week trial at which the prosecution presented more than 30 witnesses.
Newtown police arrested Mr Heath in April 2012, after which he was incarcerated and held on high bail pending his trial.
On December 18, judicial marshals rolled the wheelchair-bound Mr Heath into Courtroom 6 as he breathed bottled oxygen through a cannula. He wore prison-issued khaki pants and a pale gray sweatshirt. The frail-looking Mr Heath has chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), among other medical problems.
Mr Murray, the prosecutor, told the judge that while the victim of the crime was Elizabeth Heath, her surviving family members are the secondary victims.
Elizabeth Heath’s life was full of promise and much potential, and she and her daughter Meghan adored each other, Mr Murray said.
The medical examiner’s autopsy indicated that Ms Heath was bludgeoned to death with a long, slender object, the prosecutor said. The evidence in the case indicates that John Heath killed Elizabeth Heath, he added.
“The evidence was quite compelling,” he said.
The state’s case was based on a large amount of circumstantial evidence. A murder weapon was never found.
The police investigation into Ms Heath’s death was comprehensive, Mr Murray said, adding that the place where her remains were found wrapped in the Heath family’s bedding “is so incriminating.”
The evidence indicates that Ms Heath did not run away from the family’s property in the middle of the night on the night of the murder, as has been claimed by Mr Heath, Mr Murray said.
Mr Heath has issues with anger, including an incident in September 2012 in which he allegedly assaulted a nurse at Bridgeport Correctional Center, Mr Murray said. Mr Heath is facing assault and breach of charges stemming from that incident. He has pleaded not guilty to both charges.
Also, Mr Heath had an angry outburst against a state police witness in court at his murder trial, Mr Murray said.
The prosecutor stressed that after murdering his wife in April 1984, Mr Heath was free for 28 years until he was arrested in April 2012.
At the court session, Aubrey Gough, who was a brother of Elizabeth Heath, spoke regarding his sister’s character, telling Judge Pavia that she was a good mother to her daughter Meghan.
Mr O’Reilly told Judge Pavia that Mr Heath maintains his innocence.
Mr Heath is 70 years old and not in good health, suffering from various illnesses, Mr O’Reilly said.
In practical terms, whatever length of sentence is imposed would amount to a “life sentence,” Mr O’Reilly said.
The defense lawyer said that his client had a difficult upbringing stemming in part from a father who was convicted of crimes against children.
Mr O’Reilly said that Mr Heath served with distinction in the Vietnam War and lived a productive life, working as a volunteer in the community. Mr Heath ran a painting business.
“He’s done positive things in his life… He hopes to be exonerated in the future,” Mr O’Reilly said.
The lawyer urged that Judge Pavia impose only the mandatory minimum sentence of 25 years on the conviction.
Meghan Heath Hawes, who was the sole defense witness at the murder trial, morally supports her father, Mr O’Reilly said. Ms Hawes was 4 years old when the murder occurred.
Raquel Figueroa Heath, who had served as Megan’s babysitter, and then married John Heath after Elizabeth Heath had “disappeared,” spoke on behalf of her husband in court.
“John has been a good husband to me… He was always quiet and thoughtful,” she said, adding that he was a good father.
Raquel Heath urged that Judge Pavia consider her husband’s failing health in issuing a prison sentence.
A letter from Meghan Heath Hawes, which she wrote on behalf of her father, was read in court.
In that letter, she said that it has been difficult for her to “process” what has occurred since her mother’s remains were discovered in April 2010.
“I am truly devastated by the death of my mother,” she wrote, adding that she is grateful to know that her mother did not abandon her, as has been claimed by Mr Heath.
Ms Hawes wrote that she has gaps of knowledge about her mother’s life.
Concerning her father, John, Ms Hawes wrote that he has been a good law-abiding man and a heroic soldier.
John Heath treated her well and treated Raquel well, Ms Hawes wrote.
“He has been a positive inspiration to me,” she wrote.
Ms Hawes pointed out that her father has various medical problems and must breathe oxygen around the clock. She urged that the judge impose only the minimum 25-year sentence. Whatever length sentence is imposed it would amount to a “life sentence,” she observed.
After a review of the evidence in the case, she is not convinced that John Heath murdered Elizabeth Heath, their daughter Meghan wrote in the letter to the court.
Judge Pavia formally asked Mr Heath if he would make a statement in court, but Mr Heath declined.
Judge Pavia observed that a 12-member jury found Mr Heath guilty of murder.
Between the time of the murder in 1984 and the time of his arrest in 2012, there was a 28-year “cover up” of that murder, she said.
Multiple traumatic injuries caused Ms Heath’s death and she sought to fight off her attacker, based on the evidence, the judge said.
John Heath “got away with it” for a very long time, and every day he evaded what he had done, Judge Pavia said.
All facts involved in the case need to be considered, she said in pronouncing a 50-year prison sentence as punishment for the murder.
Mr Heath showed no reaction to the sentence.
Following the court session, Mr O’Reilly had no comment on the sentencing.
The state Department of Correction’s website now lists Mr Heath’s maximum release date from prison as April 30, 2062.