April 30, 2008

Slain Blairsville Dentist’s Estate Sues State Police

By Paul Peirce

The estate of an Indiana County dentist has filed a $1 million lawsuit against Pennsylvania State Police, accusing investigators of covering up for a trooper who faces trial this summer in the brutal slaying of Dr. John Yelenic.

Among defendants named in the lawsuit filed in the Middle District of U.S. District Court in Harrisburg are Trooper Kevin Foley, who is accused of the April 13, 2006, killing; state police Commissioner Jeffrey B. Miller; Foley's former station commander at the Indiana barracks, Lt. Bradley Shields; and Foley's former partner, Trooper Brian Bono.

The lawsuit, filed by Dauphin County attorney Don Bailey, alleges that after the slaying Foley conspired with Yelenic's estranged wife, Michele, and Bono "to hide the murder from police." Foley, who is being held in the Indiana County Jail, was living with Michele Yelenic at the time.

The lawsuit contends Foley, 42, killed the dentist at the behest of Michele Yelenic, who was angry about a pending divorce settlement and stood to benefit from her estranged husband's $1 million estate. The Yelenic family unsuccessfully went to court to seek a divorce after the dentist's death.

"Bono and Michele Yelenic caused and, or, assisted with that murder by encouraging Foley and by working with him to cover up evidence of the murder. Plaintiffs seek punitive damages because the actions of the defendants were vindictive, hateful and outrageously egregious," the 14-page lawsuit alleges.

Foley is accused of killing Yelenic during a confrontation in the dentist's Blairsville home. Foley is the only one charged in the murder. The state attorney general's office said the investigation is ongoing.

Yelenic bled to death after he was stabbed numerous times. The killer also slashed his throat, according to Dr. Cyril Wecht, a forensic pathologist.

The lawsuit claims that several of Foley's co-workers in Indiana including Bono, Shields, troopers James Fry, Daniel Zenisek, Deana Kirkland and Alison Jacobs heard Foley make threats against Yelenic but took no action to stop the killing and did not report his actions to superiors.

"Virtually none of Foley's colleagues including defendants Bono, Fry, Zenisek, Shields, Kirkland and Jacobs, in clear and unequivocal violation of PSP regulations to report such misconduct, ever acted to protect John Yelenic or inhibit or discourage Kevin Foley in carrying out the plans of he and Michele Yelenic despite being made aware by Foley himself of his intentions," the lawsuit states.

The lawsuit claims Yelenic's 14th Amendment rights to due process and equal protection were violated because police were trying to protect a fellow trooper.

The lawsuit contends that, under Miller's leadership, state police have a "custom" of hindering the investigation of wrongdoing by state police.

"This isn't about the money," said Yelenic's cousin, Mary Ann Clark of Blairsville, who filed the lawsuit seeking $1 million in damages.

"This is about making sure that we have other avenues to make sure people can be held accountable if somehow Trooper Foley is acquitted," she said Monday.

Although state police have a general policy of not commenting on civil court actions, state police headquarters in Harrisburg released a statement yesterday because "the claims made in this suit are so outrageous and inflammatory that a response from the department" is called for.

"The suit alleges that state police hampered the investigation of the murder of Dr. John Yelenic. In fact, state police played a key role in the timely and thorough criminal investigation that led to the arrest of Trooper Kevin Foley," the statement said.

"The suit further contains baseless, spurious allegations that Commissioner Jeffrey B. Miller attempted to keep the media and law enforcement agencies from learning of crimes purportedly committed within state police. The department states for the record that Commissioner Miller has not been involved in any illegal conduct nor attempted to cover up evidence of any alleged crimes purportedly committed within state police," the statement says.

"The frivolous and defamatory accusations made against Commissioner Miller under the protection of a judicial pleading are a pathetic attempt to smear the character of an individual who acts with honor and in the best interests of the citizens of the Commonwealth," said the statement released by Cpl. Linette G. Quinn.

Attempts yesterday to reach officers named individually in the lawsuit were unsuccessful. Michele Yelenic could not be reached for comment. An unidentified female who answered the telephone at her home hung up when asked for a comment on the lawsuit.

Foley's attorney, Richard Galloway of Greensburg, said his client had not been served with paperwork and could not comment.

Clark said yesterday she may decide to drop the lawsuit if Foley is convicted of murder. She said that she was forced to file the lawsuit because of the two-year statute of limitations on civil damage lawsuits.

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