DANBURY — John Sherman Heath, 68, of Bridgewater pleaded not guilty to a charge of murder on Tuesday in Danbury Superior Court, after being arrested on a warrant by Newtown police for having allegedly killed his wife Elizabeth Gough Heath, 32, in April 1984, at their Poverty Hollow Road home in Newtown.
Several judicial marshals escorted Mr Heath into Courtroom 2 where Judge John Blawie presided at the arraignment.
Mr Heath elected to have a jury trial on the murder charge, which is a Class A felony.
His next court appearance is slated for May 16, when a supervised pretrial conference would be held among Mr Heath's attorney, the prosecutor, and a judge. A hearing for probable cause is scheduled for June 19.
After explaining his legal rights to him, Judge Blawie asked whether the defendant understood those rights.
"Yes, I do, your honor," Mr Heath responded in a clear, firm voice.
During the arraignment, the defendant sat at a desk in the courtroom breathing oxygen through a plastic cannula attached to an oxygen canister. Mr Heath has "chronic obstructive pulmonary disease," according to court documents.
The retired house painter, who has long graying hair tied in a ponytail and a long beard, wore street clothes in court.
Mr Heath is being held on $1 million bail at the Bridgeport Correctional Center by the state Department of Correction.
Public Defender Miles Gerety, who was assigned to temporarily represent Mr Heath, asked that bail be reduced to $500,000, but Judge Blawie sided with State's Attorney Stephen J. Sedensky III and with the court's bail commissioner who recommended that bail be maintained at the $1 million level, which was the amount specified in the arrest warrant.
A special public defender will be appointed to represent Mr Heath, the judge said. Also, Mr Heath would be provided with medical care while being held on bail.
Mr Sedensky told the judge that officials recently saw activity involving U-Haul trucks at the 5 Keeler Road property in Bridgewater where Mr Heath rents a home, so the state needed to move quickly in making an arrest.
Mr Gerety explained that Mr Heath was planning to move to Trumbull on May 30.
If Mr Heath should post the $1 million bail, he would be required to surrender his passport, Judge Blawie said.
Newtown Police Chief Michael Kehoe said that police obtained the arrest warrant for Mr Heath on Monday.
On Monday evening, police stopped a vehicle on Hanover Road in which Mr Heath was a passenger and made that arrest, the police chief said. Six police participated.
"We are pleased that we've come this far with this investigation and we're getting closer to closure," Chief Kehoe said of the case's eventual disposition.
"It certainly is a circumstantial case," Chief Kehoe said of the many elements of the situation that led to police receiving a court warrant for Mr Heath's arrest on the murder charge.
The police chief stressed that police sought to be thorough in their investigation into Elizabeth Heath's homicide.
The chief state's medical examiner determined through an autopsy that Elizabeth Heath's homicide was caused by a "blunt traumatic head injury," or a forceful blow to the head.
The 27-page arrest warrant affidavit submitted by Detective Jason Frank lists the many elements that led police to determine that John Heath had murdered Elizabeth Heath, against whom he had just filed divorce papers.