John David Dawson repeatedly denied Thursday that he had killed his wife 30 years ago or that he was at the scene on a lonely rural road when she was beaten to death and her body placed in her car before it was set on fire.
Dawson 61, broke into tears as he said that he still loved his wife, Kathleen “Kathy” Dawson all these years later despite having an affair with a woman four to six weeks prior to her death. It was his second marriage.
Since then, Dawson said that he had a third marriage that ended in divorce and was in a relationship with another woman in Florida. He has been living in Florida since moving there three months after Kathleen Dawson was murdered.
Her charred remains were found by a passing motorist shortly after midnight on Nov. 10, 1981, on a hilly, twisting section of Soap Hollow Road in Conemaugh Township. The prosecution alleges that she received fatal head injuries in a beating with a blackjack found at the scene.
The jury of seven women and five men is expected to begin deliberations by midday today. Closing arguments will be made by defense attorney Joseph Policicchio and District Attorney Jerry Spangler when the trial resumes at 9 this morning. Judge John Cascio then will give the jurors instructions on the law before sending them out to begin deliberations.
Only two charges – first- and third-degree murder – or a “not guilty” verdict will be considered by the jury. The judge earlier this week threw out charges of criminal conspiracy to commit murder and arson. He also ruled that second-degree murder and voluntary and involuntary manslaughter were not options.
Dawson, who was on the stand for more than four hours Thursday, has been in jail since his arrest in April 2009. He said that he had moved to Florida both to find work and because a township police officer was telling people “I was a murderer, and he could prove it.”
He said that he never owned a blackjack and didn’t know what one looked like until the one found at the scene was taken out of an evidence box and shown to the jury.
He maintained that Pastor Don Eller – who testified earlier in the trial about seeing a blackjack at the Dawson’s apartment in Windber – had never visited there. The Dawsons had lived in Windber before moving to Jenner Township in 1976 to start building their own house, he said. At the time of the victim’s death, they were living in the basement foundation which had been finished for living quarters, he said.
The evening of Nov. 9, 1981, Dawson spent at home except for a brief visit to his parents’ nearby mobile home, he said. He said that he fell asleep while watching “Monday Night Football” and became alarmed when he awoke shortly after midnight and discovered that his wife had not yet returned from work.
The victim, a nurses’ aide at Windber Medical Center, had worked that 3-to11-shift and ordinarily was home by 11;30, he said. The 1977 Plymouth Horizon was a re-built vehicle and had been having some transmission problems, he said.
Dawson initially called a friend – Doug Bowser – to check whether she had made a stop at his house in the Riverside area for a glue compound that he wanted to use to repair a sliding door before calling the police to inquire whether there were any accidents. The defendant said that he and his wife had talked about the glue that day, and when she said said she could stop for it, he told her not to bother and that he would get it the next day.
He testified that he eventually broke off his longtime friendship with Bowser when Bowser accused him of killing his wife.
Dawson said that he had no recollection of telling Bowser, “If I did or didn’t, that’s my business. If I did, I’d have to live with it myself.”
The defendant also denied suggesting to George “Bill” Stiffler – another longtime friend – that the two of them do a “two-for-one” deal about getting rid of their wives when Stiffler was complaining about his wife. But Dawson said that he did remember saying something about “an exchange” while the two of them had been with Bowser and drinking for hours.
He said that the reddish marks on his face were caused by a flashback when he had thrown a match onto kerosene he had poured into his coal-fired furnace around 8:30 on the evening of Nov. 9, 1981. He denied telling anyone else that it had happened at a different time.
The marks – just below his eyes – became more red and inflamed both because of his crying and rubbing his eyes after being told of his wife’s death and because a salve he had put on them had made then worse, he said.
“I had a lot of things to deal with. I was shedding some tears, and I was wiping and wiping my eyes,” Dawson said.