Bradford R. Fenocchio
PLACER COUNTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY
10810 Justice Center Drive, Suite 240
Roseville, California 95678
For Immediate Release
Date: April 24, 2009
Contact: Suzanne Gazzaniga
FORMER SHERIFF’S SERGEANT SENTENCED TO 27 YEARS
TO LIFE IN 26-YEAR MURDER CASE
A 26-year-old murder mystery in Placer County came to a close today when a former sheriff’s sergeant was sentenced to 27 years to life in prison for the slaying of his wife.
Paul R. Kovacich, Jr., 59, received the sentence from Placer County Superior Court Judge Mark S. Curry after a jury found him guilty Jan. 27 of first-degree murder with the use of a firearm in the death of his wife, Janet Gregoire Kovacich, who disappeared on Sept. 8, 1982.
Suzanne Gazzaniga, Placer County senior deputy district attorney who has handled the case since 2006, said after the sentencing that justice had been served.
“It was the sentence that we asked for,” she said.
Deputy District Attorney Dave Tellman, Gazzaniga’s co-counsel, called it “a just sentence for a heinous, heinous crime” that occurred many years ago.
Before imposing the sentence, Judge Curry listened to Kovacich deny his guilt and make a statement in which the defendant both criticized the investigation against him and disputed trial witnesses.
Curry then told the nearly packed courtroom that before he received the case for trial, he had never heard of Kovacich and knew nothing about the case.
But he said that after hearing all of the evidence presented in the nearly four-month trial and seeing a 12-member jury convict Kovacich, “I too was convinced that this gentleman murdered his wife.”
Gazzaniga praised the teamwork between her office and the various law enforcement agencies that led to Kovacich’s conviction and that brings closure to the community of Auburn and to the Gregoire family.
She also hoped the verdict and sentencing had brought peace to the spirit of the deceased young mother “whose life, hopes and love for her children were extinguished by her husband.”
Gazzaniga gave credit to the jury for its “dedication to its civic duty, its commitment to the lengthy trial and its diligence and hard work both during trial and during deliberations.”
Gazzaniga also praised the investigative efforts of the Auburn Police Department under the leadership of retired Chief Nick Willick and current Chief Valerie Harris.
“Chief Harris and reserve Officer Jerry Johnson both deserve a tremendous amount of credit for their continued efforts at solving the murder of Janet Gregoire Kovacich and for their steadfast pursuit of justice,” Gazzaniga said.
Other agencies involved in the investigation were the Placer County Sheriff’s Department under the leadership of Sheriff Ed Bonner, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the California Department of Justice, which conducted crucial forensics examinations, Gazzaniga said.
Within her own office, Gazzaniga credited Tellman, Assistant District Attorney Daniel Gong, retired Supervising Deputy District Attorney Clifford Gessner, Supervising Deputy District Attorney Thomas Beattie, Senior Deputy District Attorney Garen Horst and District Attorney Investigators Noah Brommeland and David Koppin for their roles in the successful prosecution.
“As was shown at trial, this case involved a tremendous body of evidence developed over the course of time and ultimately presented to the jury,” she said.
“This is a case where the People proved the case with circumstantial evidence that led to one conclusion: On Sept. 8, 1982, the defendant murdered his wife, Janet Kovacich.”
Gazzaniga outlined some of the evidence presented at trial:
In 1982, Paul Kovacich was employed with the Placer County Sheriff’s Department. He was a sergeant assigned to the Placer County Jail.
His wife, Janet, was a homemaker, and the couple had two children, ages 5 and 7. The family lived in Auburn.
Kovacich was the last person to see Janet alive or to talk with her. Other than the defendant, the last person to see Janet was the driver of a car pool who took Janet’s children to school at 8 a.m., and the last person to talk to Janet was Marion Entz in a phone call at 10 a.m.
Since those hours, Janet, who was 27 in 1982, was never seen again nor heard from. There were no cars missing from the house and Janet, who had recently undergone surgery, was in no physical condition to drive or walk away from the home.
There was no evidence of a break-in at the home and Kovacich’s own police dog was home that morning.
In October 1995, two people walking on the dry lake bottom of Rollins Lake near Colfax noticed something partially buried in the silt. It was a weathered, partial human skull with what was later proved to be a bullet hole in its right side.
From the Kovacich home in Auburn, the lake is about a 25-minute drive if one travels a direct route from Interstate 80 and then onto paved country roads.
By 2006-07, DNA technology and extraction methods of dry bone had advanced to the point where a test could be done on the skull. The results showed that the skull was likely that of Janet Gregoire Kovacich.
In October 2008, the case against Paul Kovacich went to trial. On Jan. 27, 2009, the jury returned from deliberations and convicted the defendant of first-degree murder with use of a firearm.
“At the conclusion of listening to all the evidence presented by the People, the jury found that Janet did not voluntarily abandon her children in pursuit of a new life,” Gazzaniga said.
“The People also proved that Janet was not abducted from her home by a stranger who then murdered her and that Janet did not voluntarily leave her home with an acquaintance who then murdered her.
“The only conclusion the jury could reach based on all the evidence was that Janet was murdered by the defendant.”