Pa. trooper arrested for murder

By Jim McKinnon
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

INDIANA, Pa. News that a state trooper had been charged with killing Blairsville dentist John Yelenic came as no surprise to the victim's friends, who knew that the trooper had been living with the dentist's estranged wife.

Seventeen months after Dr. Yelenic was found stabbed to death in his home, Trooper Kevin Foley, who worked as a homicide investigator, was charged with homicide in the April 2006 slaying.

Susan McGuckin-Coates, 38, of Blairsville, a friend of the victim who lived on the same street and a former patient, was among those who suspected Trooper Foley from the start.

"I don't think I am going out on a limb by saying this: When the name was announced of Kevin Foley being arrested, there was no surprise," said Mrs. McGuckin-Coates.

"I think all of John's friends would agree that from the beginning we knew Kevin Foley had something to do with this."

Suspicions were raised early on because Dr. Yelenic's wife, Michele, 36, stood to receive more than $1 million in insurance benefits through his death, more money than she would get in a divorce settlement.

The day he died, Dr. Yelenic, 39, had been expected to finalize a divorce decree, ending his seven-year marriage. Their three-year-long fight included various claims by Mrs. Yelenic in their custody battle over their three children, complaints that were investigated and determined to be groundless.

State Attorney General Tom Corbett, announcing Trooper Foley's arrest at a news conference yesterday in Indiana County, declined to say whether Mrs. Yelenic is a suspect. He said the investigation is continuing.

"This is obviously a very dark and disturbing day for the Pennsylvania State Police and law enforcement agents anywhere," said state police Cmdr. Robert Lizik.

Investigators knew, after finding Dr. Yelenic's body on the afternoon of April 13, 2006, that the killer had entered the South Spring Street residence through an unlocked back door sometime between 12:30 and 1 a.m.

The two struggled, and Dr. Yelenic bled to death from knife wounds of the scalp, face, neck, trunk and right arm. Belongings were in disarray, blood was pooled and splattered, and a window had been broken.

Bloody footprints from running shoes tracked out through the back door. This was significant because Dr. Yelenic was found barefoot, and the tread marks matched the brand and size of running shoe Trooper Foley had been known to wear.

The investigation picked up steam last February, and evidence continued to mount against Mr. Foley sometime after a grand jury convened.

Investigators learned of Trooper Foley's "well-known hatred for Dr. Yelenic," Mr. Corbett said.

According to the grand jury, Trooper Deana Kirkland advised Mr. Foley last year before the murder that he should stop talking about wishing for Dr. Yelenic's death. She said he responded, "I just can't help it."

Trooper Daniel Zenisek, who worked with Trooper Foley, testified that his partner's uttered death wishes were "pretty much a daily thing."

One trooper testified that Mr. Foley, who lived with Mrs. Yelenic, once asked if he'd like to help get rid of the dentist. The trooper said he did not take the offer seriously.

Dr. Yelenic's attorney, Effie Alexander, earlier told investigators that the victim offered her money to pay for an investigation should he be killed because he believed that Foley, as a trooper, could help cover up such a killing, the grand jury said.

Authorities declined yesterday to say whether Trooper Foley had been involved in the investigation of Dr. Yelenic's death.

Investigators said that the night before the incident, Trooper Foley had played hockey until around midnight. Witnesses said he left the arena in good health and with no visible marks.

After the slaying, however, he had noticeable injuries around his left eye, described as "fairly fresh" by Blairsville police Officer Jill Gaston.

Surveillance video from two Blairsville businesses show Mr. Foley's vehicle traveling near where Dr. Yelenic lived, around 1:48 a.m.

The killing created an uproar in the town of Blairsville, where local citizens and businesses posted fliers asking for help in the probe.

"For the last year and a half, Blairsville has been covered by a dark cloud," Indiana County District Attorney Robert Bell said at yesterday's news conference. "There's been a lot of concern around town. One of our favorite sons was murdered. Today, that concern is lifted a little."

Aylisa McGuckin, 18, who used to babysit for the Yelenic children, said she is relieved the arrest has been made. She said she and others who knew the dentist had suspected the state police trooper was the killer. Everyone knew the suspect and the ex-wife "didn't like John."

Mr. Foley enlisted in the state police in 1994. He was stationed at the Indiana barracks since late 2004 where he was assigned to the criminal investigation unit probing crimes ranging from criminal mischief to homicide, the grand jury said.

Earlier this year, Trooper Foley was reassigned to restricted duty and transferred to the Hollidaysburg station. In June, he was subpoenaed by the grand jury. He had been on sick leave for the last three months before his arrest. Yesterday, Trooper Foley was suspended without pay.

A judge last year refused to grant a posthumous divorce to John Yelenic, who was killed a day before he was to sign papers ending his marriage.

Common Pleas Judge Carol Hanna of Indiana County ruled that giving a divorce to a dead man would be "a redundant act."

She said Dr. Yelenic's marriage ended April 13, the day he was slain in his home.

Dr. Yelenic practiced general dentistry in Blairsville, his hometown, for 13 years.

His parents are dead and he had no siblings, but friends and more distant relatives established a $10,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of his killer.

Copyright 2007 Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

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