By Dan Nephin
INDIANA, Pa. — The trial of a western Pennsylvania state trooper accused of slashing a dentist to death got under way Monday.
Deputy Attorney General Anthony Krastek opened the criminal homicide trial by telling an Indiana County jury that Trooper Kevin Foley had a "loathing for the dentist" he's accused of murdering on April 13, 2006.
Foley was living with the estranged wife of Dr. John Yelenic at the time of the 39-year-old dentist's death. The killing occurred one day before Yelenic was set to sign his final divorce papers.
Krastek told the jury that DNA found under Yelenic's fingerprints matches Foley and will point to a violent struggle that led to his death. Bloody footprints that match athletic shoes Foley was known to wear at the time will also link him to the crime, Krastek said.
One of Foley's defense attorneys, Jeffrey Monzo, acknowledged that Foley and Yelenic didn't get along. But Monzo told the jury that prosecutors are "leaping and jumping to a conclusion" in a "desperate attempt" to pin the crime on Foley, who remains on unpaid suspension from the state police.
"You should not confuse a dislike with a motive," Monzo said.
Monzo contends authorities failed to investigate at least three other suspects in the killing, including a neighbor to whom Yelenic loaned $15,000 to start a business. Monzo suggested Yelenic was friendly with the neighbor's wife, which might have given him a motive to kill the dentist.
Foley, 43, is charged with criminal homicide, a catch-all charge that gives the jury the option of convicting him of first-degree murder or a lesser degree charge, including manslaughter. If convicted of first-degree murder, Foley would spend life in prison without parole.
John and Michele Yelenic separated in 2002 and their divorce was so contentious the dentist's attorney asked a judge to issue a divorce decree a month after he died, saying the dentist would have wanted it that way. The judge researched the request but ultimately rejected it, finding Yelenic's death made the matter moot.
A pathologist determined Yelenic's throat had been slit and he likely bled to death in minutes. But nobody was charged with the crime until Foley was arrested in September 2007.
A state grand jury found Foley "had a well-known hatred for Dr. Yelenic" and even told fellow troopers that he prayed for Yelenic's death. Foley once asked another trooper if he would like to help kill Yelenic, although the trooper did not take the comment seriously, state Attorney General Tom Corbett said at the time.
The grand jury's presentment said that Yelenic's estranged wife and their adopted son stood to collect on the dentist's estate, including a $1 million life insurance policy. Foley had moved in with Michele Yelenic, the adopted son and her two other children in late 2004.
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The grand jury also determined that Michele Yelenic stood to lose about $2,500 a month in support under the couple's divorce settlement, which was days from being approved when the dentist was found murdered.