Judge: Evidence supports Groves guilty verdict

From PennLive

LOCK HAVEN — The evidence presented in the trial of man accused of a 27-year-old murder supports the jury’s third-degree murder verdict, said the presiding judge.

Lycoming County Senior Judge Kenneth D. Brown issued that opinion in response to defendant Lloyd Groves’ appeal of his conviction to the state Superior Court.

Groves was convicted in December of killing Katherine Dolan Heckel in 1991. Groves and Heckel were co-workers at the former International Paper Company mill in Lock Haven, Clinton County, and were having an extra-marital affair, prosecutors argued.

Heckel, 40, left the mill to go to lunch on July 15, 1991, and was never seen again. She was eventually declared legally dead, but her body has never been found.

Groves, in his appeal, argued that the verdict was not supported by the weight of the evidence, that the judge allowed testimony that should have been inadmissible, and that he abused his discretion in sentencing 69-year-old Groves to 10 to 20 years in state prison.

Prosecutors contended that Groves killed Heckel because she wanted to end their relationship.

“This case presented many challenges for the jury and the witnesses who were testifying about an event which occurred approximately 27 years ago,” Brown wrote.

“However, this court can find nothing in the jury’s verdict that would shock the conscience or seem unjust. We do not believe the jury’s verdict is against the weight of the evidence presented at trial.”

The judge found no merit in the other issues raised in the appeal. They included:

Brown should have suppressed evidence from searches of Groves’ van in which a speck of blood containing Heckel’s DNA was found and of his desk at work, from which a pistol was recovered.

Brown shouldn’t have allowed Dennis Taylor, with whom Heckel also was having a sexual relationship, to testify about her wanting to end her relationship with Groves.

Brown shouldn’t have permitted Gayle Taylor, with whom Groves worked with in Ohio, to testify that he told her in 1994 or 1995 that he could show her how to bury a body so it would never be found.

That Brown abused his discretion in sentencing Groves to the maximum sentence.

Brown, who was assigned the case after judges in Clinton County recused themselves, said he found her testimony was relevant and had important significance to the facts of the case.

His opinion also refers to prosecution testimony about a heated argument Heckel and Groves had at work the morning she disappeared, him going home in the early afternoon to change his shirt and later telling state police he did not remember where he ate lunch that day.

The defense, citing Groves’ lack of a criminal record, sought a sentence of 4 to 10 years that would have been time served because he had been in jail without bail since his arrest January 2015.

The judge said he chose to sentence in the aggravated range because:

The victim’s family has been traumatized and deprived of a sense of closure because Heckel’s body has never been found.

Groves was fully aware when he killed Heckel her children, then 9 and 13, were losing their mother forever.

The absolute lack of remorse for Heckel or her family.

The family had to live with the investigation from 1991 when Heckel disappeared until January 2015 when Groves was arrested.

The 61-page opinion cites the evidence that eliminated as suspects Heckel’s husband John, to whom she had been married 19 years, and Dennis Taylor.

On the day she disappeared, her husband was engaged in field exercise training with the National Guard at Fort Drum, N.Y., and Taylor played golf.

Groves, an industrial hygienist responsible for an ongoing asbestos abatement effort at the mill, did not testify at his trial. He maintained his innocence at sentencing telling Brown: “I hurt no one. I committed no crime.”