Groves convicted of third-degree murder

LOCK HAVEN — The word “guilty” rang out through the large courtroom 12 times as a jury announced the verdict in the Loyd Groves murder trial.

The courtroom was very quiet as the jury walked into the room after announcing to the judge that they had reached a verdict just about 2:30 p.m. Monday.

Family members and friends of Kathy Heckel, who Groves was charged with killing 27 years ago, held hands and hugged each other as they waited to hear Groves’ fate.

Word had apparently spread quickly and there were close to 100 people sitting in the pews by the time the verdict was actually announced. Numerous police officers and sheriff’s deputies stood at every corner of the courtroom.

Groves, 69, sat quietly between his attorneys, as he’s done throughout the trial, and showed no emotion as the verdict was read.

Judge Kenneth Brown read the verdict first and then gave the verdict sheet back to the jury foreman for him to read aloud.

On the first degree murder charge, the first question was if the jury found that Kathy Heckel is dead beyond a reasonable doubt. The foreman responded, “yes.”

On the charge of first-degree murder, the jury foreman pronounced, “not guilty.”

Moving on to third-degree murder, again the jury foreman responded “yes” when asked if the jury found that Heckel is dead beyond a reasonable doubt.

And on the charge of third-degree murder, the foreman announced “guilty.”

The jury was then polled and each one responded “guilty.”

Tears and smiles immediately erupted from the family members.

And prosecutor Daniel Dye hurried to Kathy Heckel’s mother, Margaret Dolan, seated in the front row, where she’s been every day since the trial began on Nov. 19.

Margaret was smiling through her tears.

Dye smiled broadly and hugged her, as others in the courtroom stood in a line to congratulate the 86-year-old mother who’s been waiting for this day for almost 30 years.

Margaret and her late husband, Clarence, believed from the very start that Groves killed their daughter and hoped and prayed that the evidence would be found to prove that.

Unfortunately, Clarence didn’t live to see that day.

But Margaret did. She never gave up… and Monday her prayers were answered.

Other family members rejoicing with the verdict included Kathy’s husband, John Heckel III, and their son and daughter, John Heckel IV and Alicia, both now married. Kathy’s sister, Cindy, and brother, Stephen, were also there to comfort and support their mother through the eight-day trial.

Prior to the jury announcing they had a verdict, Judge Brown said the jury had sent him a note saying they were unable to reach a unanimous verdict. But before the judge could ask the jury if or how he could help, another note came from the jury saying they had now reached a unanimous verdict.

Judge Brown questioned the jury foreman, asking him if he and the other 11 jurors were now satisfied and were able to reach a unanimous verdict. “If you have any doubt, we are happy to help you,” the judge said.

The jury foreman replied all were satisfied and they had reached a unanimous verdict.

Groves was charged with both first- and third-degree murder. First-degree murder is any intentional murder that is willful and premeditated with malice.

Third-degree murder is sometimes called a crime of passion murder, and is any intentional killing that involves no prior intent to kill.

Before the jurors were excused, Judge Brown warned them that they might be approached by the media to talk about their decision. He told them that it’s up to them, but they do not have to talk to the media if they do not wish. He thanked them for their service and they were escorted by sheriff’s deputies to their vehicles.

Groves was arrested on Jan. 20, 2015 after a state Investigative Grand Jury reported there was enough evidence to charge him with killing Heckel. He was brought back to Clinton County from his home in Beaver, Pa., and has remained in the Clinton County Correctional Facility at McElhattan since then.

Groves and Heckel both worked at Hammermill Paper Co. at the time of her disappearance.

The prosecution said Heckel and Groves were having an affair, she wanted to break off the relationship and Groves did not. Dye said Groves killed her and disposed of her body where she would never be found.

The defense brought forward a large number of inconsistencies in police reports and testimony of witnesses who said one thing back in 1991 and something else when they were questioned by the Grand Jury and during this trial. They also used a timeline detailing where Groves allegedly was during that day and said he had no time to do anything with Kathy.

“It was a well-tried case,” Judge Brown told the attorneys before he stepped down from the bench.

Asked for comments after the verdict was rendered, the jury was gone and Groves had left the courtroom, Dye spoke only briefly.

“I am pleased with the verdict. I am pleased to get justice for Kathy after 27 years,” Dye said.

Lindsay declined to comment.

Groves’ sentencing is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. Jan. 17. The judge has ordered a pre-sentence investigation by the county probation department.