PITTSBURGH – A man accused of murdering his wife has been charged with forging documents to steal a cemetery plot so he could be buried beside her.
Bedford County District Attorney William Higgins contends the alleged scam is 39-year-old John Gerholt's latest effort to harass his late wife, Karen, and her relatives.
"I've never seen somebody so persistent with somebody they killed, trying to torment them after they've killed them. Isn't that enough?" Higgins said.
Gerholt's defense attorney, Thomas Dickey, denied that his client is harassing his late wife's family.
"This is just another sign of his true love and devotion to his wife, albeit deceased," Dickey said.
Gerholt is accused of shooting his 24-year-old wife twice with a sawed-off shotgun as she left for a break at the McDonald's where she worked near Everett, about 90 miles east of Pittsburgh.
Dickey claims the Nov. 9, 2008, shooting was accidental. Higgins calls that "inconsistent," because he contends the gun would have to be cocked between the first and second shots.
Gerholt is charged with murder and awaiting trial. Higgins is pursuing the death penalty because Karen Gerholt had a protection-from-abuse order against her husband, and because John Gerholt allegedly endangered others outside the restaurant.
Gerholt, of Mount Union, was already jailed when the forgery and theft charges were filed Friday.
Karen Gerholt's aunt owned two empty burial lots at a cemetery, Higgins said. The aunt gave up one for Karen and planned to give the other to another relative, only to discover it had already been deeded to Gerholt, he said. The aunt contacted authorities and the deed in Gerholt's name has since been voided, Higgins said.
Gerholt somehow got paperwork into the county jail, had it forged and had a jail employee notarize it, Higgins said.
Nobody else has been charged with helping Gerholt, though the prosecutor said he hasn't ruled out charging Karen's mother, Carolyn McConaughey, who inquired about ownership of the cemetery plot shortly before Gerholt got the documents.
McConaughey, of Huntingdon County, regularly visits Gerholt at the jail and has urged Higgins not to prosecute her former son-in-law, the prosecutor said. "We don't know why," Higgins said.
McConaughey told The Associated Press she "didn't have any involvement" in the burial plot transfer. She said she inquired about its ownership because she wanted to bury her mother next to her daughter, but dropped the matter when she never heard back from the owner.
Asked about her sympathies for Gerholt, she said, "All I want to say is, he loved my daughter and I don't believe he intentionally shot her for any reason." Then she hung up.
Higgins said Gerholt has placed newspaper ads mourning his wife's passing on her birthday, on Valentine's Day, and on the anniversary of her death. He called the ads an effort to win public sympathy and further harass his wife's relatives.
The anniversary ad says, "I won't stop looking for you until I meet up with you again in Heaven." It appeared next to one from McConaughey, her husband and other relatives.
"He's letting her know that he's going to track her down in heaven, and be buried next to her," Higgins said. "That's the way we see this and it's extremely disturbing."