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Testimony concludes in Donachy trial

October 18, 2011

As the second week of the trial of Lawrence Earl Donachy commenced Monday morning, testimony concluded and jurors began the day with a field trip to St. Marys, where they were shown various sites of interest pertaining to the trial. Donachy, 36, is accused of the April 5-6, 1999 rape and murder of 56-year-old St. Marys beautician Irene Challingsworth at her home on 213 Walnut St.
The 14-member jury, including two alternate jurors, all residents of Butler County, visited such locations as Challingsworth's home on Walnut Street; Donachy's place of employment at Advanced Heat Treating on Trout Run Road, where he worked the 3-11 p.m. shift; the former Uni-Mart stores on S. Michael Road and Robin Road; Donachy's former residence in the Robin Road trailer park, where he walked to and from work; and Keystone Carbon Company, where Challingsworth's boyfriend Tom Feldbauer worked at the time of the crime.
Donachy is charged with one count each of criminal homicide, rape, burglary, aggravated assault, criminal attempt at arson and unlawful restraint in the case.
The trial is being held at the Elk County Courthouse in Ridgway and presided over by President Judge Richard Masson.
Defense attorneys George Daghir and Shawn McMahon called several witnesses on Monday morning, all of whom offered brief testimonies.
The first witness called to the stand was Michael Nussbaum, shift supervisor at Advanced Heat Treating. He stated that in April 1999 Donachy worked the 3-11 p.m. shift at the plant.
Daghir then questioned Bernice Baker of Williamsport, a former Chestnut Street resident who also owned property on Pine Street. Baker stated she spoke with former St. Marys Police Officer John Lovett on April 8, 1999 regarding her observations on the evening of Monday, April 5, 1999.
According to Baker, on Monday evening she was closing up her house on Pine Street and she and her three young children were moving yard toys via wagon from their Chestnut Street home, located near the post office, to the Pine Street property. She noted that it took three trips to move the toys.
When asked to describe the atmosphere that night, Baker replied that "It was one of those weird nights" and "There were shady characters standing at the end of Pine Street" near the lightpost.
She explained the streetlights were coming on at that time, and the presence of the "shady characters" caused Baker and her children to stop what they were doing and go inside for the evening.
"The atmosphere was kind of hair-raising, so we decided to stop for the evening," Baker said.
Baker recollected hearing a loud noise, like a bang, around 11 p.m., but did not investigate its origins.
Elk County District Attorney Bradley Kraus asked Baker when she spoke with SMPD officers in the days following Challingsworth's death. Baker replied that officers came to her door, which she said she assumed they did due to her proximity to Challingsworth's home and that they were going door-to-door questioning nearby neighbors.
McMahon then briefly questioned Linda Gahr of Walnut Street, who stated she lives four houses away from Challingsworth and heard a loud noise, screaming and two bangs around 10:30 p.m. on the evening of Monday, April 5. Daghir asked which police officer she spoke with, and Gahr responded she had spoken to Lovett. She added that she did not contact police after hearing the screaming and that she also spoke with SMPD Officer Robert Lewis.
Michael Barchony, a controller at Advanced Heat Treating, was the next witness. He furnished Daghir with a copy of Donachy's employment records during the week of April 5-11, 1999.
He stated Donachy worked at the plant as part of a referral from Interim Personnel Services, which provides contract workers to the facility on a part-time basis. According to Barchony, the employment paperwork states Donachy worked a total of 40 straight hours, 2.5 overtime hours and eight double-time hours during the week of April 5-11, 1999. Daghir then introduced the pay records as evidence.
Kraus inquired if the Pennsylvania State Police requested Donachy's employment records. Barchony said PSP had not requested the records. Barchony stated he faxed Daghir the records in early October of this year upon finding them in an old storage box while he was looking for other records.
Current City of St. Marys Police Chief William "Todd" Caltagarone, who was a SMPD police officer in 1999, answered Daghir's inquiries in regard to a July 2008 interview with Denise Zuchowski, former roommate and lover of Donachy. Zuchowski had arrived at the police station at 6 a.m. requesting to speak with Caltagarone.
Daghir asked if Caltagarone recollected Zuchowski telling police that her former boyfriend Shawn Steffan and Donachy competed for her affection and indicating she thought it may have pushed Donachy to commit the crimes against Challingsworth, as well as Zuchowski stating the three of them were living together while she was having an affair with Donachy behind Steffan's back. Caltagarone stated he recollected those statements made by Zuchowski.
Closing statements in the trial will be made Tuesday morning.

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