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Defense Lawyer Challenges Police Probe in Heath Case

DANBURY – The defense attorney for John Heath, 70, the Bridgewater man who is accused of murder in the 1984 death of his wife Elizabeth, 32, challenged the thoroughness of the Newtown police investigation that was conducted after John Heath reported to police that his wife was missing.

On October 4 in Danbury Superior Court, Special Public Defender Francis O’Reilly said that the 1984 police investigation into Ms Heath’s disappearance contains “major holes” stemming from police not having documented interviews on the matter which they may have had with certain people who spent time at the 89 Poverty Hollow Road property in Newtown, where Ms Heath lived with her husband John and their daughter Meghann.

Mr Heath had filed divorce proceedings against his wife about two months before he reported her as missing.

Under cross-examination by Mr O’Reilly, Newtown police Detective Jason Frank said that there are “no holes” in the state’s prosecution of Mr Heath.

Det Frank became the police department’s lead investigator in the murder case after Ms Heath’s skeletal remains were discovered in April 2010. Those remains were found stuffed into a dry well located beneath the floor of a barn at the Heath property.

The police investigation would have been more thorough and better if police had interviewed more people after Ms Heath was reported as missing by her husband in April 1984, Mr O’Reilly said.

Newtown police Detective Joseph Joudy told Supervising Assistant State’s Attorney Warren Murray, who is the prosecutor, that in September 2009, he had been assigned by a supervisor to reinvestigate the “cold case” of the missing Elizabeth Heath.

Det Joudy said he contacted Mr Heath to ask some questions on the matter and also to seek a DNA sample from Meghann Heath, who was then living in Puerto Rico.

Det Joudy said the DNA sample was never provided to police. Such genetic samples are used as reference material for police investigations into missing people reports.

Det Joudy went to 89 Poverty Hollow Road in April 2010, after the property’s current owner called police to report that human remains had been found there.

On arriving, police saw an uncovered human thighbone adjacent to the dry well where it had been located, he said. Newtown police called state police to aid in the investigation, he said.

Det Joudy testified that he then accompanied state police Detective Daniel Jewiss to the Heath residence at 5 Keeler Road in Bridgewater to interview Mr Heath. Det Joudy said Mr Heath told the two detectives that he was not aware there was a dry well in the Poverty Hollow Road barn.

John Heath and his wife Raquel had lost the Poverty Hollow Road property in a 2005 property foreclosure.

 

Friends Testify

Under questioning by Mr Murray, witness Trudy Karahalios of Waterbury explained that she had been a friend of Ms Heath, having first met her while they were students at Joel Barlow High School in Redding.

Across time, however, the two women had drifted apart socially, Ms Karahalios said.

After Mr Heath had reported Ms Heath as missing to police, Mr Heath contacted her to ask if she had seen his wife, Ms Karahalios told Mr Murray. She added that Mr Heath did not provide her with much information about the matter.

Under cross-examination by Mr O’Reilly, Ms Karahalios said that Ms Heath had a difficult home life while she was growing up.

Ms Karahalios said that she was not surprised when she learned that Ms Heath was missing, when considering that she had run away in response to past adverse situations. She later added, however, that she had no first-hand knowledge of Ms Heath having run away in the past.

Under questioning by Mr Murray, Jacquelyn Sanford of Redding said she knew Ms Heath since 1968 at high school.

“She was a wonderful mother,” Ms Sanford said, adding that Ms Heath was pretty and dressed attractively after she had lost about 80 to 100 pounds.

After Ms Heath had missed a date to meet with her, Ms Sanford explained that she called her home and spoke to Mr Heath who told her that Ms Heath had run off. Mr Heath “seemed a little agitated and a little angry,” Ms Sanford said.

Ms Sanford said that at his instruction, she called Mr Heath on a regular basis in seeking to learn whether Ms Heath had been found.

 Under cross-examination by Mr O’Reilly, Ms Sanford said that Ms Heath had sought psychotherapy for personal problems and then sought to become a psychotherapist.

Asked about whether Ms Heath was “unreliable,” Ms Sanford said “Elizabeth could be unreliable; she wasn’t always unreliable.”

 

Fourth Day of Trial

On October 3, attorney Jill O’Connor testified as an expert witness on divorce law for the prosecution.

Ms O’Connor said that John Heath was awarded custody of Meghann Heath as part of the Heath’s uncontested divorce, which was approved by the court in August 1984. Under that agreement, Elizabeth would get no alimony and no child support, Ms O’Connor said.

Elizabeth’s name was not on the deed for 89 Poverty Hollow Road, which John Heath had bought in 1973.

In June 1985, John Heath married Raquel Figueroa. Raquel’s name had been placed on the property deed about four months before she married John, granting her one-half ownership interest in the property, Ms O’Connor said.

Witness Adelita Chirino testified that she knew Ms Heath for about two years, adding that they studied psychotherapy together at the Temenos Institute in Westport. Elizabeth was a committed student who worked hard, Ms Chirino said.

Ms Heath was scheduled to make a class presentation at the institute on April 2, 1984, but she did not show up, surprising those who had expected her to attend, Ms Chirino said,

Witness Gillian Perry of Stonington, a former neighbor of the Heaths, said Ms Heath had approached her explaining that her husband was seeking a divorce and asking whether she could move into an apartment which Ms Perry had at her property. Ms Perry said she apologetically told Ms Heath that she could not move into the apartment.

Under cross-examination by Mr O’Reilly, Ms Perry said that the Heaths were quiet and pleasant neighbors, adding that she was surprised when Ms Heath asked if she could move into the apartment.

Witness Richard Baranik of Southbury, a carpenter who had helped John Heath build a house at 89 Poverty Hollow Road, said that had advised the Heaths to resolve their marital differences and not get divorced.

 Mr Baranik, who had lived at 89 Poverty Hollow Road, said that his daughter had often played with Meghann Heath.

Testimony is slated to resume on Tuesday, October 8.

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