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John and Kristi Kovacich defend their father

Brother and sister criticize investigators, prosecutors
By: Jenifer Gee Journal Staff Writer
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“I remember the day my mom disappeared because that day I colored my mom a picture. I put it in a cardboard jewelry box for her and left it on the kitchen counter. I did that quite a bit for her. I remember the days following her disappearance by the way I watched that box. Every day when I got home from school, I would look to see if the box was on the counter – if the box was opened, then I knew that my mom had been home! Well, the box stayed on the counter, unopened, for weeks until I finally put it in my room.” - Kristi Kovacich, April 24, 2009, at her father’s sentencing Kristi Kovacich and her brother, John, remember their mother. They love their mother. They want to find out the truth about what happened to their mother – who disappeared 26 years ago. But they say the answer is not in the story investigators and prosecutors presented before a jury in October. In January, that jury convicted Kristi and John’s father, Paul Kovacich Jr., of murdering their mother, Janet Kovacich, on Sept. 8, 1982. During Paul Kovacich’s sentencing, both John and Kristi Kovacich, who were 5 and 7 years old when their mother disappeared, vehemently defended their father. The now 32-and 33-year-old son and daughter say the District Attorney’s Office has lied and investigators had “tunnel vision.” And for those who think Kristi and John should read the evidence for themselves, Kristi Kovacich says she has examined more than 700 pages of court transcripts and counting. “I find it truly amazing how speculation and rumor can so easily become ‘fact’ in the minds of people who barely even knew us,” Kristi Kovacich wrote in response to a series of questions asked by the Journal. “Claiming that my brother and I were brainwashed is not only far-fetched, it is simply more speculation without one ounce of proof. My brother and I are well-educated, fully-grown adults who are more than capable of reviewing the evidence and making decisions for ourselves.” Kristi Kovacich said after reading the entire transcripts from the 2006 Grand Jury hearing, after which her father was indicted of her mother’s murder, she was able to confirm her father’s innocence. She said she has requested copies of the trial transcripts from prosecutors Suzanne Gazzaniga and Dave Tellman. She said the defense has yet to see those transcripts. Kristi Kovacich said she has also requested any additional documents and is waiting for a response. After Paul Kovacich Jr. was sentenced to 27-years-to-life in prison in April, prosecutors invited John and Kristi Kovacich to meet with them to review the evidence. During and after the statements John and Kristi gave at their dad’s sentencing, they outlined examples of what they say is misconduct on the part of prosecutors and investigators. Kristi Kovacich said she and her brother were initially subpoenaed to testify at the Grand Jury hearing. She said investigators prior to the hearing interviewed them both. A day before the hearing, they were told by prosecutors they were no longer needed. However, upon reviewing transcripts from the proceeding, Kristi Kovacich said she was angered to read that then-prosecutor Dan Gong had told the Grand Jury, “We subpoenaed John and Kristi to testify. They’re adults now. And I believe they’re going to tell you that they don’t want to testify. They don’t want to be here.” “This is a complete lie on the part of the District Attorney,” Kristi Kovacich said. She said that she and her brother were actually looking forward to having their testimony heard by several people rather than just investigators who were earlier convinced their mother was buried under their grandparents’ garage. In 1995, hikers found a skullcap at a reservoir in Rollins Lake. In 2007, DNA tests confirmed that it was Janet Kovacich’s skull. The rest of her remains have not yet been found. “In fact, I even showed up on the day I was supposed to testify and sat outside the courtroom hoping they would call me in,” Kristi Kovacich said. John Kovacich called into question reserve Auburn Police Department officer Jerry Johnson’s involvement in the case. “Unfortunately, ego and over zealousness took control in 2002 when Mr. Jerry Johnson became lead investigator,” John Kovacich said. John Kovacich said he believes it was a “severe conflict of interest” to let Johnson re-investigate the case because of a falling out between Johnson and Paul Kovacich Jr. John Kovacich said Johnson had sued his father over a “petty amount of money” in the late 1980s. “I admire Mr. Johnson’s willingness to volunteer his time to investigate a case in exchange for no payment,” John Kovacich wrote. “However, I feel it would have been more prudent for the Auburn Police Department to utilize Mr. Johnson’s desire to volunteer by placing him on one of the many other unsolved cases in which there was no conflict of interest.” Throughout the investigation, John and Kristi Kovacich said they’ve endured a great deal. They’ve fought what they call rumors that their dad kicked their family dog to death. They’ve heard stories of their mother’s parents fighting for visitation rights and being denied. But Kristi Kovacich said her grandmother’s “very vocal dislike” for her father created uncomfortable tension to the point where in 1984 a Placer County judge ruled that visiting with the maternal grandparents was not in the best interest of the “minor children.” Both she and John Kovacich said despite what they’ve gone through and what they’ll face in the coming years, they’ll continue to fight for their father. “I have no idea why God has decided to take our family through this journey,” Kristi Kovacich said during her father’s sentencing. “But I do believe that he is calling me to take action on the issues that have surfaced in this case, the issues that have caused an innocent man to be convicted.” The Journal's Jenifer Gee can be reached at jeniferg@goldcountrymedia.com or post a comment. ---------- Editor’s note: This is one of a series of stories following Paul Kovacich Jr.’s 27-to-life sentence for the murder of his wife, Janet. ---------- The defense was reportedly not allowed to present information about other missing people from the Auburn area during Paul Kovacich Jr.’s trial. Those disappearances include: - Mary Lloyd, 68, was abducted June 1985 from a Safeway grocery store parking lot that was less than 3 miles from the Kovacich’s former Auburn home. She reportedly went into the store to buy a quart of mile after attending church. Her body, which had been stabbed, was later found in a field less than a mile from Interstate 80. - Cindy Wanner, 35, was reportedly abducted without a trace Nov. 25, 1991, from her sister’s Granite Bay home. Wanner’s sister’s 11-month-old daughter was still sitting in her highchair when less than 45 minutes from when she was last seen, her husband came home and found Wanner was gone. Her body was found off Foresthill Road east of Auburn 19 days later. She reportedly died of strangulation and no suspects were found. The home was a little less than 13 miles from the Kovacich’s former home along the same Auburn Folsom Road corridor. - Cherilyn Hawkley, 39, a well-liked fifth grade teacher, was found Oct. 31, 1993, strangled in her minivan, located under trees near Oakhills Elementary School in Granite Bay. No motive or suspect ever found. - Placer Sheriff’s deputy Jerry Dollinger, was reported missing Sept. 8, 1982, the same day Janet Kovacich disappeared. Dollinger’s body was found several days later on a Lake Tahoe Shore. The cause of death was never determined. ---------- According to information provided by John and Kristi Kovacich and defense attorneys for Paul Kovacich Jr., investigators failed to properly investigate or interview potentially key leads or witnesses to present during Paul Kovacich’s trial in October. Those failures include: - Lyle Fullerton report: on Sept. 8, 1982, an employee at Alpine Market, where the Kovacichs frequently shopped, reported seeing a woman with a band-aid on her lower lip. He said the woman looked like the photo of the missing woman being published but when interviewed over the phone by law enforcement, he said he was unable to describe the woman or her clothing and said he thought he could not pick the woman, or the man she was with, out of a photo lineup. According to the defense, only Janet’s doctor and family members knew she had a band-aid on her lower lip. The bandage was covering where Janet had previously had sutures. - Beverly Brunkhorst: In initial police interviews, Paul Kovacich reported dropping off time cards with Brunkhorst. Defense says this lead was not properly followed up on and today, Brunkhorst does not remember the day that happened. - Gym sign-in sheet: Paul Kovacich reportedly went to the gym the day his wife disappeared. Defense attorneys criticized investigators for not obtaining the sign-in sheets, which could have potentially corroborated his story. ----------