The homicide trial of Lawrence Earl Donachy, 36, of St. Marys, began Monday morning as a 15-member jury heard opening remarks and testimony from four witnesses was heard.
Donachy is charged in the April 6, 1999 rape and murder of Irene Challingsworth, a 57-year-old St. Marys beautician, after he allegedly broke into her Walnut Street residence. He is charged with one count each of criminal homicide, rape, burglary, aggravated assault, criminal attempt at arson and unlawful restraint. Donachy, who is currently incarcerated at the State Correctional Institute in Albion, was present at the trial.
Elk County Court of Common Pleas President Judge Richard Masson is presiding over the 10-day trial and opened with detailed instructions to the 12 jury members plus three alternates, all of whom are Butler, Pa. residents. They are being housed in DuBois.
In addition, witnesses have also been sequestered for the duration of the trial.
Elk County District Attorney Bradley Kraus and defense attorneys George "Jim" Daghir and Shawn McMahon presented opening arguments on Monday. Kraus was joined at the prosecution table by former St. Marys City Police Sergeant and current Emporium Chief of Police John Lovett and Pennsylvania State Police Trooper Dave Ray, both of whom filed a joint criminal complaint against Donachy initially charging him with the crimes.
Kraus summed up Challingsworth's last day, describing how she spent Monday, April 5, 1999, her day off, shopping in DuBois, babysitting her granddaughter and visiting with her daughter Kelly Bauer, excited to show her her $1,000 winning instant lottery ticket. The next morning, Challingsworth's long-time client, Judith Wendel, found her murdered in her bed.
Kraus said throughout the trial, the jury will learn about the cause of her death from forensic pathologist Dr. Eric Vey, M.D. of Erie and hear testimony from Lovett and St. Marys City Police Sergeant Phil Hoh, who were among the first police personnel to respond to the scene, and PSP Forensic Scientist Alex Glessner, who will testify about the DNA evidence.
Kraus emphasized that Challingsworth was stabbed three times in the face and neck area, with the second wound, measuring 12 centimeters deep, being the fatal wound that killed her. He noted that ligature marks were found on her bound wrists and a bra was tied around her neck.
"'We want you to base this on facts. This is your job. You need to assess each witness' credibility," Kraus said. "I want you to listen and focus on testimony and evidence.
"Our position is that Larry Donachy committed first-degree murder because he had a specific intent to kill her-- and that he raped her and in the process committed the offense of burglary."
Kraus explained second-degree murder as when someone dies as a result of a burglary. Donachy is also being charged with aggravated assault.
Next, defense attorney Daghir addressed the jury.
"These are just opening remarks, not evidence," Daghir said. "You are the judges of the facts. Larry Donachy is perceived innocent."
Daghir added the facts of the case are not complicated.
"Use your everyday common sense you have gained through the years," he said. "No one here is not going to tell you this murder was not horrific. You will see the photos and hear testimony that is awful."
Daghir further explained the case was originally investigated by the St. Marys City Police Department until July 2002, when it was turned over to the Pennsylvania State Police. SMPD was involved with the initial collection of evidence at the scene, with the department having "put in tremendous man-hours on the case," he said.
Pick up a copy of the Tuesday, Oct. 11, 2011 edition of The Ridgway Record for more.