Less than 24 hours after a coroner’s inquest found a woman responsible for the shooting death of her boyfriend in September 2011, state police filed a homicide charge against her.
Jessica Alinsky, 29, of Shenandoah, was charged with an open count of homicide and tampering with evidence after a six-member jury on Tuesday found she was responsible for Matthew Gailie’s death after a two-day inquest.
The inquest is a rare proceeding in which a jury determines the manner of death of someone who has died and who, if anyone, is responsible for the death.
Gailie, 34, died of a single gunshot wound to the face inside his home on Muskegan Circle in Eagle Rock — a gated resort community in Hazle Township.
Alinsky told investigators she was in their home on the second floor when she heard a pop and went downstairs to find Gailie on the floor.
“(Tuesday’s verdict) was wonderful,” District Attorney Stefanie Salavantis said Wednesday. “We were expecting it, but you never know what can come from a jury. I’m very proud of what happened yesterday.”
Salavantis said the preparation for the inquest was lengthy and similar to an actual trial.
“We had to do research on how the proceeding was going to go, and it was a learning process for everyone involved. Assistant District Attorney Dan Zola did an outstanding job,” Salavantis said.
The jury heard testimony from a number of witnesses Monday and Tuesday, including state troopers, neighbors, family members, a forensic pathologist and a psychiatrist.
Much like a trial, photos and audio recordings were used and witnesses answered questions asked by the assistant district attorney. Unlike a trial, jurors were permitted to ask questions and acting Coroner William Lisman presided over the proceeding rather than a judge.
After deliberating for about a half hour Tuesday, the jury determined that Gailie’s manner of death was homicide and that Alinsky was responsible for the death.
Salavantis said investigators picked up Alinsky on Wednesday to be arraigned on the charge.
Zola said during the inquest that Alinsky could face first- or third-degree murder, or involuntary or voluntary manslaughter. Zola said second-degree murder does not apply in the case because a felony was not committed in addition to the homicide.
According to the criminal complaint filed Wednesday at District Judge James Dixon’s office, Alinsky called Luzerne County 911 at 11:47 p.m. Sept. 2, 2011, reporting that Gailie had shot himself in the head.
State police responding to the scene found Gailie lying dead on the living room floor with a gunshot wound under his left nostril. Police also observed a Springfield XD 9mm semi-automatic pistol in Gailie’s left hand with the tip of his index finger inside the trigger guard.
Blood evidence indicated Gailie’s head initially rested on the cushion of a couch, as a large amount of blood had seeped into it. Gailie had been pulled back from the couch into the position that he was found, as there was a large linear blood spatter pattern projecting from behind his head, police said in the court papers.
Police said Alinsky gave police four different versions of what took place.
Alinsky told police she and Gailie had gotten into an argument and she was upstairs when Gailie shot himself. Then she said she was in a downstairs bathroom when she heard a pop and emerged from the bathroom to find Gailie on the floor. Then she told police she was in the living room when she saw Gailie shoot himself. Next, she told police she was in in the living room with Gailie and tried to get the gun away from him when it went off, police said.
‘My finger was on the trigger’
Police said Alinsky agreed to go to state police headquarters in West Hazleton for questioning and, while walking to a police vehicle, said: “Did I kill him? My finger was on the trigger.” Asked what she meant when she said her finger was on the trigger, police said Alinsky paused, stared toward the house and said, “Our fight caused this to happen. I did this. What am I going to do without him?”
After she was advised of her constitutional rights at state police headquarters, Alinsky denied shooting Gailie, moving his body or placing the pistol in his hand, police said.
Alinsky then told police she and Gailie had a fight and she was in an upstairs bedroom when she heard a pop; she went downstairs and found Gailie on the floor. In a subsequent taped interview, Alinsky provided the same version of events except that Gailie was brandishing the gun before she went upstairs, police said.
The following day, police interviewed neighbor Tracey Grohol, who told them she heard a gunshot at 11:34 p.m. — 16 minutes before Alinsky’s 911 call. But police found that Grohol’s clock was three minutes fast compared to the county 911 center.
In a subsequent interview on Sept. 4, 2011, Alinsky admitted to police she had lied and that she did move Gailie’s body, placed the pistol in his hand and did not immediately call 911 for assistance, police said.
Police said an autopsy performed on Gailie by Dr. Gary Ross indicated the bullet entered Gailie’s right upper lip beneath the left nostril, traveling from front to back, upwards to the right and transected Gailie’s brain stem; immediate loss of consciousness would have ensued, with death quickly following.
The autopsy also found there would be no voluntary activity by Gailie after the shot was fired and there was no soot or spatter pattern on his hands or forearms. Ross noted that the location of the gunshot wound and distance were “extremely unusual,” police said in court papers.
Further ballistic testing of the pistol led Ross to conclude the muzzle of the pistol was 5 to 7 inches from the entrance of the wound. Ross concluded that the distance, shot placement and trajectory were inconsistent with suicide and determined that the manner of death was homicide.
Arraigned in Hazle Twp.
Alinsky was arraigned before District Judge James Dixon in Hazle Township late Wednesday afternoon after an extradition hearing in Pottsville, Schuylkill County.
Dixon explained to Alinsky that the homicide charge carries a maximum penalty of life in prison or death and that the charge of tampering with evidence carries a maximum penalty of two years in prison and a $5,000 fine.
Dixon said the filing of a homicide charge precluded him from assigning bail, so Alinsky was jailed at the Luzerne County Correctional Facility until her preliminary hearing, which is tentatively scheduled for Aug. 9. However, the hearing will likely be continued, as Zola told Dixon he had a conflict on that date.
Alinsky is represented by Tamaqua attorney Gary Marchalk, who was not present at the arraignment. Alinsky’s family members, who were present, declined comment, as did Alinsky, except to say that she missed Gailie in response to a reporter’s question.
Asked after the arraignment if the case relied on circumstantial evidence and if it would be difficult to prosecute, Zola said it would not “thanks to the hard work of the investigators in this case. They really put the pieces of the puzzle together.”
Zola said the case was difficult from the beginning because investigators were given “a version of events that didn’t make sense when you put that version up against the physical evidence, the forensic evidence.”
“Unfortunately in this case, as was presented at the coroner’s inquest, when you have a crime scene that has been manipulated and tampered with, it’s very, very difficult to determine what happened. But we were able to do that and I’m confident that once we present this to a jury, we’ll get a conviction,” Zola said.