Paul Kovacich Jr. loses appeal of Auburn murder conviction

By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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Placer Sheriff’s Sgt. Paul Kovacich Jr.’s appeal of a 2009 first-degree murder conviction for killing his wife 29 years ago has been denied by the Third District State Court of Appeals. A written ruling issued this past week states that while several issues were raised by Kovacich’s defense team challenging the conviction in Placer County Superior Court, the court could not agree with any of the contentions. A jury convicted Kovacich of first-degree murder in the Sept. 8, 1982, death of his wife, Janet. Both were living with their children in an Auburn home at the time she disappeared. Her body was never found. But prosecutors produced part of a skull discovered in the Rollins Lake overflow pond 13 years afterward that contained a hole jurors found had a bullet hole from a gun Kovacich fired. Among the arguments for dismissal of the verdict were that Judge Mark Curry “committed reversible error” at trial by allowing: n Out-of-court statements that Janet Kovacich feared the defendant n Admitting statements made before Kovacich’s disappearance that her husband kicked the family dog to death n Expert testimony on spousal abuse that went beyond what should have been allowed Defense attorneys also argued that the judge erred by excluding evidence that the chief investigator harbored an alleged bias against the defendant. The appeals court decision, which was handed down in Sacramento on Wednesday, does not end Kovacich’s attempt to reverse the verdict. But he continues to serve a 27-years-to-life prison term. San Francisco attorney Dennis Riordan, who is representing Kovacich during the appeals process, said they will petition for review of the decision and also file an appeal with the state Supreme Court. Because the opinion is a written one, and could be used to set precedent on legal issues in the future, it has more of an opportunity to be heard by the state Supreme Court, he said. “It’s an unusual case,” Riordan said. “The decision on admissibility of expert testimony is very significant and could be a challenge at the Supreme Court level.” Deputy District Attorney Dave Tellman, who worked with prosecutor Suzanne Gazzaniga on the conviction, said the outcome of the appeal was one that the Placer County District Attorney’s Office was very happy with. “We’re very pleased that the District 3 Appellate Court decision saw it the way the jury did – that there was sufficient evidence to support a conviction,” Tellman said. “We were impressed with Judge Curry’s ruling during the trial and glad the appeals court upheld all those rulings.” Associate Justice Andrea Hoch provided a synopsis of the major incriminating factors in the case, stating that Janet Kovacich disappeared after telling her husband that she was leaving him and taking their two young children with her. “The husband, Paul Ralph Kovacich Jr., was controlling and abusive in the marriage,” Hoch wrote. “He admitted to cheating on her and was seen in the arms of another woman within two days of her disappearance, he played no active role in searching for her despite the fact that he was a trained sheriff’s dog handler and he told his new girlfriend that his wife ‘wasn’t coming back.’” Hoch stated that a portion of Janet’s skull was discovered near Rollins Lake, a place the defendant had experience patrolling. “The skull, which was not determined to be Janet’s until 2007, had a hole that was consistent with an entrance would caused by a gunshot from a large-caliber handgun, similar to the weapon the defendant had been issued as a law-enforcement officer,” Hoch wrote.