Kovacich described as ‘only’ suspect

Defense says murder not possible, criticize investigation
By: Jenifer Gee Journal Staff Writer
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Paul Kovacich is the only person who stood to lose so much from his wife starting a new life and in turn, could gain so much from her death, the prosecution in Paul Kovacich’s trial said in its closing arguments. The defense, however, said Paul Kovacich was nothing more than a loving husband and father who is not capable of killing his wife. The fate of Paul Kovacich, a former Placer County Sheriff’s Office sergeant, is now in the hands of the jury. Paul Kovacich has pleaded not guilty to murder with the use of a firearm in the Sept. 8, 1982 death and disappearance of his wife, Janet Kovacich. Wednesday morning the defense and prosecution concluded their closing arguments, signifying the end of a four-month trial that resurfaced a 26-year-old Auburn cold case. The Kovacich marriage, the investigation into Janet Kovacich’s disappearance, the comments from friends, neighbors and family, and more was presented from two different perspectives. Prosecutor Dave Tellman said Janet Kovacich was a devoted mother who would never abandon her children. He said her demonstrated love for John and Kristi Kovacich, who were 5 and 7 years old respectively at the time of her disappearance, ruled out any possibility that Janet Kovacich would willingly leave her family or commit suicide. “This is at the core of Janet’s being,” Tellman said of her love for her children. “This is one piece of circumstantial evidence that weighs heavier than any other piece of evidence in this case.” In Paul Kovacich’s defense, attorney John Spurling said his client had only told his children good things about their mother, and cared for the girl who he met when she was 16 years old and he was 21. Spurling read aloud a portion of the acknowledgment of Paul Kovacich’s college thesis. “First and foremost I thank and dedicate this thesis to my wife, Janet. Because of her unending dedication, time and love, this thesis is possible,” Spurling read. In a sign of solidarity, John and Kristi Kovacich sat directly behind their father during Tuesday’s closing arguments. On Wednesday, Kristi Kovacich was in court and again sat behind her father. She was flanked by her father’s longtime girlfriend and retired Placer County Sheriff’s Office investigator Dixie King as well as Paul Kovacich’s parents, and other supporters. Directly across the aisle inside the Placer County courtroom sat Janet Kovacich’s brother, Gary Gregoire. Her parents have since passed away and Gary is the only surviving member of Janet Kovacich’s immediate family. The estrangement between the two families appeared to remain in place as neither side interacted during or after court proceedings. The permanent divide between the two families was detailed during the both the prosecution and defense closing arguments. The prosecution later laid out how they believed Paul Kovacich killed his wife. By piecing together a timeline from witness statements and recorded interviews between the defendant and investigators, Tellman said the morning of Sept. 8, 1982, Janet Kovacich confronted her husband with a divorce discussion. Tellman suggested that Paul Kovacich said he would give his wife a ride to a morning appointment but instead drove her Rollins Lake, shot her in the head and hid her body. Tellman said Paul Kovacich’s deep hatred for the family is what drove him to ultimately kill his wife when faced that the possibility that she would divorce him and again become a Gregoire. “He had a motive to kill her,” Tellman said. “He wasn’t going to let this girl who he aggressively pursued go back to the people he hates.” Spurling strongly refuted the “cynical twist” of the case presented by Tellman, saying the prosecution has an “imaginative story.” “Mr. Tellman sat here a good part of this day imagining what happened, yet you have no testimony,” Spurling said to the jury Tuesday. Spurling said Paul Kovacich had two reliable alibis, witnesses who could vouch for his appearance on that morning. One witnesses stated seeing him at an Auburn gym that morning and around noon a fellow sergeant also testified to seeing Paul Kovacich. Spurling criticized the initial investigation as “dishonest,” saying the immediate bias that the defendant was responsible for his wife’s disappearance hindered any early attempts to exonerate him. “The real tragedy of this case, the true tragedy is they so quickly focused on Paul in that one week to the exclusion of other theories,” Spurling said. He asked the jury to imagine Janet Kovacich’s last moments and argued that she would fight and struggle before being killed. He said there were no signs of a struggle either in the house or in any of the family’s cars. There was no evidence of cleanup either, he said. “There are things we are likely to never know about this case,” Spurling said. “Perhaps if there were a fair, adequate, competent investigation we might.” Tellman argued that the investigation and search for Janet Kovacich was massive and thorough. He said the defense has issued several red herrings detracting from the facts. “After 26 years, more than 750 exhibits, and all these witnesses, there is only one reasonable conclusion,” Tellman said. “Only one person with the motive, one person who killed his wife, one person to gain from her death and that’s the defendant.” Spurling urged the jury to consider the decision facing them as one of the most important decisions of their lives. “After an honest, impartial view of the evidence, I submit to you that Paul is not guilty beyond a reasonable doubt,” Spurling said. “I think there can be no doubt Janet Kovacich was a woman in turmoil in September 1982. They have not shown that Paul, her husband, is responsible for her disappearance.” The Journal's Jenifer Gee can be reached at or post a comment.