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Jury finds Kovacich guilty of wife’s killing

Liz Kellar
Staff Writer

After 26 years of speculation and doubt, the verdict finally is in: Placer County jurors found Paul Kovacich guilty of murdering his wife, Janet Kovacich, with a firearm in 1982.

Jurors in a Roseville courtroom listened for four months to arguments regarding the former Placer County sheriff’s deputy. They came back with the guilty verdict Tuesday afternoon after deliberating three days.

About 90 people gathered to hear the verdict, many of them area law enforcement officers, prosecutors and Superior Court staff. The venue for the reading had to be changed to accommodate them, said Art Campos, a former Sacramento Bee reporter who attended the trial.

Kovacich’s parents, children and longtime girlfriend, Dixie King, did not attend the reading of the verdict.

“There was no noise in the courtroom after the verdict,” Campos said.

“I was stunned,” he said of the verdict. “(Placer County Prosecutor Dave) Tellman’s closing argument was powerful. He tied all the loose ends together.”

The jurors were escorted out a side door and were unavailable to discuss the verdict.

The judge issued a gag order until Kovacich is sentenced, said Scott Owens of the county District Attorney’s Office. No date has been set for the expected sentence of 25 years to life.

Kovacich lawyer John Spurling said he would move to dismiss the verdict ” a fairly standard procedure in such cases. The hearing is set for 1:30 p.m. Feb. 20 in Dept. 4 at the Auburn courthouse.

Janet Kovacich disappeared Sept. 8, 1982, leaving the couple’s two small children and a legacy of suspicion toward her husband. A piece of her skull ” with a bullet hole in it ” was found at Rollins Lake in 1995; it was identified in 2005, leading to Kovacich’s indictment.

In closing arguments last week, Tellman painted a picture of Kovacich as abusive and controlling.

Spurling characterized Janet Kovacich as a “troubled young woman” trying to paint her husband in an unflattering light. He argued a reasonable doubt about Kovacich’s guilt existed because prosecutors could present no definite time, place or cause of death.

On the day she disappeared, Janet Kovacich had made an appointment to enroll her children at Forest Lake Christian School in southern Nevada County. She never arrived, and years later, the trail of suspicion led authorities to excavate the Lake of the Pines yard of her father-in-law, Paul Kovacich Sr.

Tellman had characterized the victim as a devoted mother trying to get out of an abusive relationship who never would have left her children willingly.

He suggested Kovacich turned to murder when his wife spoke of getting a divorce with economic help from her parents, who did not approve of the marriage.

To contact Staff Writer Liz Kellar, e-mail lkellar@theunion.com or call 477-4229.

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