Tuesday Apr 28 2009
What would Auburn Police like to say to Paul Kovacich?
Chief Valerie Harris answers questions related to 26-year investigation
A 26-year investigation into the disappearance of a missing mother of two came to end last week. A Placer County judge sentenced former Placer Sheriff Sgt. Paul Kovacich Jr. to 27 years to life in prison for murdering his wife, Janet Kovacich, on Sept. 8, 1982. An appeal is reportedly pending, and Paul Kovacich’s now adult children are defending their father, saying he is innocent. Law enforcement, however, is reflecting on a case that plagued the community for years and say justice has finally been served. Below Auburn Police Chief Valerie Harris answers questions about what the verdict and sentence mean to the department and what they would say to Paul Kovacich. 1. What does the conclusion of this case mean to the Auburn Police Department? The years of hard work by so many has helped to bring some justice to the Gregoire family and to all that were affected by Janet’s death. It meant being able to tell Gary Gregoire and other family members that we hoped our efforts could bring some peace to them as it has been very apparent the pain of their loss has devastated them. It provided all of the members from the law enforcement community the opportunity to pause and reply “YOU ARE WELCOME” when the Gregoire family expressed their appreciation for efforts to bring the case to the jury. Finally, it means the department can now focus on other unsolved cases with the same commitment level to identify the individual(s) responsible for the unjust death of those individuals and family members waiting for justice. 1. What were the challenges in this case? The years passing since Janet was murdered and the difficulties associated with bringing a case forward to a jury when the body of the victim has not been recovered. “Patience” was a challenge as law enforcement personnel have waited anxiously for DNA identification processes/technology advancements to take place and help in some way with the case. This of course did play a significant role in the case as it allowed experts to positively identify the skull as that of Janet Kovacich. 2. What was the hardest challenge? The painstaking work of re-interviewing witnesses and following all leads that came forth. Another difficulty arose from Mr. Kovacich’s refusal to speak with investigators since initial interviews in 1982. 3. What did Auburn Police think happened to Janet Kovacich’sbody? I will refrain from speculation on that and ask that Mr. Kovacich come forth and tell us exactly where he has put her. He is the one with the accurate facts as to her location and the only one that can bring to light all of the details of the events that took place that day. 4. What was your reaction, and the reaction of the police department as a whole, to the verdict? A sense that all of the “teamwork” and efforts by the law enforcement community in this region and beyond brought justice to Janet. So many of us worked the case and never had the pleasure of meeting Janet Kovacich, yet we felt the time investigating the case allowed us to get a glimpse of what a wonderful person she was. Many felt we were able to give a bit of Janet’s memory back to her family. 5. How does this case stack up against others in your career as far as satisfaction? I don’t know that I can compare satisfaction in that Janet was killed and there is no possible way to bring her back. Catching a bank robber brings satisfaction in so far as we stop them from committing the crime again and endangering the public. In this case, Janet was killed so young and her children and family were deprived of their time with her. Any sense of satisfaction is numbed by the reality Janet cannot be brought back. 6. How much time and money has been spent on this case? This cannot be determined in so far as so many officers and allied agencies helped with this case since 1982. Again, whatever the amount it is worth it with respect to bringing justice to Janet and her family. 7. What extraordinary lengths did the department go to in solving this case? The efforts to enlist so many resources from outside the department to help with the case. These include: Placer County District Attorney’s Office, Placer County Sheriff’s Department, FBI (Sacramento & Quantico, Va.), Department of Justice, Office of Emergency Services, Sacramento County Sheriff, Placer County Special Investigations Division, Placer County Law Enforcement Chaplaincy and many more. 8. Who individually went the extra mile to see this case solved? Any examples? All of the staff at APD went the extra mile on this case. It involved time of investigators doing interview after interview and the time to document the findings. Auburn Police staff included Investigator Jerry Johnson, Lieutenant Scott Burns, Sergeant Chris Reams, Sergeant Victor Pecoraro, and FBI Agent Chris Hopkins to name a few of the individuals that contributed greatly. This of course came to the just conclusion through the outstanding prosecution efforts from Deputy DAs Suzanne Gazzaniga and Dave Tellman. 9. Are you proud of the way your department handled this case? Absolutely! APD never gave up on following leads and doing everything possible to investigate the case to conclusion. Why or why not? We did not allow obstacles or perceived resource limitations stop us from finding the truth. We overcame obstacles by getting additional education in areas that would aid us with the investigation. For example, we learned about ground penetrating radar to aid us in searching possible gravesites. Training for the operation of wire taps as an investigative tool never solely conducted by this agency before. We examined resources available through Department of Justice, FBI and others that could be put into use when and if needed. The efforts by investigators to write, obtain, and successfully serve search warrants that provided invaluable evidence in trial are something to be very proud of. We were able to serve warrants simultaneously and increase the probability of finding evidence we were seeking that again proved beneficial in the end. 10. Did you learn anything? The willingness of our staff to remain focused even in difficult investigations and overcome obstacles was a vital lesson. The success of this case is the result of the diligence of APD investigators along with the support of others in our law enforcement partnerships, all contributing to the final verdict handed down by the jury. 11. Anything you would like to say to Paul Kovacich Jr.? I would ask that he consider the request from Janet’s brother, Gary Gregoire, last week in court. Mr. Gregoire asked Mr. Kovacich to reveal where he put Janet. This will allow family to put Janet in her final resting place and hopefully bring some additional closure and relief from the pain they have suffered for so long. It is just that Mr. Kovacich give Janet back to all of those people that loved her so much.