DANBURY — The trial of John Heath, 70, who is accused of murdering his wife Elizabeth, 32, in 1984, is scheduled to start on Wednesday, September 25, in state Superior Court in Danbury.
The starting date of the trial is subject to delay, if circumstances warrant.
The state alleges that Mr Heath of Bridgewater murdered his wife in April 1984, and then hid her body, which was wrapped in bedding, in a container located beneath the floor of a barn near the home where they then lived at 89 Poverty Hollow Road in Newtown.
Jury selection in the murder trial started in mid-July. A 12-person jury will decide the case to be presented by Supervising Assistant State’s Attorney Warren Murray, who is the prosecutor, and attorney Francis O’Reilly, who is Mr Heath’s special public defender.
Judge Robin Pavia will preside at the trial.
Ms Heath’s remains were discovered in April 2010 when the Poverty Hollow Road property’s current owners were renovating the barn and uncovered her skeleton.
Newtown police arrested Mr Heath on a warrant in April 2012, after which he pleaded not guilty to the murder charge.
Since his arrest, Mr Heath has been held on $1 million bail on the murder charge at the Bridgeport Correctional Center.
In September 2012, Mr Heath’s bail was raised by $2,500 to $1,002,500 after he was arrested on charges of third-degree assault and second-degree breach of peace for allegedly assaulting a 51-year-old female nurse at the correctional center. Mr Heath has pleaded not guilty to those two charges, which are pending.
A Case Of A Thousand Details
The state’s evidence in the murder case is largely circumstantial, with no alleged murder weapon having been disclosed.
“It’s case of a thousand details,” Mr Murray has said of the many aspects of the case that the prosecution would present at trial.
Mr O’Reilly has argued that the state lacks evidence and is basing its murder case on “speculation and conjecture.” The state will have a difficult time proving its allegations against Mr Heath beyond a reasonable doubt, Mr O’Reilly has said.
In his court appearances since May 2102, Mr Heath has been seated in a wheelchair and provided with an oxygen supply, which he breathes through a cannula. The defendant, who is a former commercial painter, has chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). The Vietnam War veteran also has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
At a mid-July court appearance, Judge Pavia asked Mr Heath whether he wanted to reach a plea agreement with the state.
In such a situation, Mr Heath would plead guilty and his attorney would then argue for leniency in sentencing.
Mr Heath then told Judge Pavia that after having discussed that matter with Mr O’Reilly, “I have come to the conclusion that I am innocent and I don’t want to plead ‘guilty’ to anything … I want my life back.”
The judge pointed out to Mr Heath that if he is found guilty at trial, the sentence that he would receive would be harsher than the sentence which he would receive through a plea agreement.
The sentence for a murder conviction in Connecticut ranges from 25 to 60 years of imprisonment, with 60 years considered to be a “life” sentence.
Defensive Actions During Attack
John and Elizabeth Heath had been in the midst of a divorce in April 1984, when Mr Heath reported to Newtown police that his wife was missing.
Based on the skeletal evidence, which was inspected by the chief state medical examiner in 2010, there was the intent to kill Ms Heath, when considering that her facial bones were crushed inward and that her arm was broken, indicating her defensive actions during the fatal attack.
State police had packaged Ms Heath’s skeletal remains in 183 separate containers for submission to the medical examiner.
Following a “hearing for probable cause,” in July 2012 Judge John Blawie ruled that there is sufficient evidence for Mr Heath to stand trial on the murder charge. The state presented 12 witnesses at that hearing; the defense presented no witnesses.
State law provides that a person charged with a crime that is punishable by life imprisonment, such as murder, may not be put on trial for the crime unless the court determines that there is “probable cause” to believe that the accused person committed the offense charged.
Mr Heath had the option of waiving the probable cause hearing, but did not do so, requiring the state to describe its evidence.
Judge Blawie has said his decision on the probable cause issue is based on the “totality” of the circumstances and the facts presented by the prosecution.
The standard of proof that is required to conduct a criminal trial is lower than the standard of proof that is required for a conviction.