ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — A Monroe County jury convicted James Krauseneck of second-degree murder Monday in relation to the gruesome killing of his wife with an ax back in 1982.
Krauseneck was found guilty of second-degree murder. He will be held without bail and is expected to be sentenced on November 7.
After the verdict was announced, the Brighton husband was led out of the courtroom in handcuffs.
Prosecutors said Krauseneck killed his wife Cathleen “Cathy” Krauseneck on February 19, 1982, on Del Rio Drive in Brighton. The 29-year-old was found murdered, with an ax to the back of her skull in her bedroom.
In the moments leading up to the verdict, Cathy Krauseneck’s sister turned to distraught daughter Sarah Krauseneck and said “I love you more than you’ll ever know.”
Krauseneck was arrested in 2019 after Brighton police said they had no evidence of anyone other than him being at the scene, despite early indications of a separate subject in Edward Laraby.
Laraby was living five minutes away from the house at the time of the murder. He penned a letter confessing to killing Cathy and was arrested, but died in prison before being prosecuted. However, some information in the letter is factually incorrect. Defense attorney Bill Easton argued throughout the trial that there hadn’t been enough attention on Laraby.
“It was written in the context that he was dying, about to face his enemy,” said Easton. “There are some things wrong in the statement […] but some are consistent; The notion he wipes down the ax with a bath towel [for example].”
Krauseneck initially said he left the house for work at 6:30 a.m., which helped initially absolve him, as an early medical examiner’s note indicated she died between 6:55 a.m. and 8:55 a.m. Yet, Cathy’s body temperature indicated her time of death could have been before then, while he was still home.
The case was revisited in 2015 when police began using modern screening software come to the opinion that the killing happened before 6:30 a.m.
However, this new opinion came under scrutiny once again in the latest trial.
Since the brutal killing, nearly a month of deliberations, thousands of hours into the case, and more than 40 years have passed. In the end, 12 jurors made the final decision in this historic trial.
Throughout the trial, the jury repeatedly asked to hear the legal definition of “proof beyond a reasonable doubt.” The judge explained there is no “probably guilty” or “maybe guilty” verdict — just “guilty” or “not guilty.”
“I don’t think there was one piece of evidence that […] carried this over the threshold,” District Attorney Sandra Doorley said following the guilty verdict. “I think it was every little piece [that] counted, and you put all of that together — I think that’s what established guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.”
Closing arguments in the trial were Thursday. Easton highlighted two main questions: Is there proof beyond a reasonable doubt that Krauseneck committed the murder, and what exactly happened the day Cathy was found dead?
Here is a closer look at what was debated among the jurors over the past month:
A key piece of discussion: why did anyone want to kill Cathy?
The prosecution argued it had to do with both James’ relationship with Cathy and his incomplete Ph.D.
Prosecutor Pat Gallagher brought up a marriage and sex social worker card, found in the Krauseneck car.
Gallagher said that Krauseneck moved to Rochester to work at Kodak for a Ph.D. position when he didn’t have the credentials. A few weeks before Cathy’s death, Gallagher said James was contacted about his incomplete Ph.D.
“All he had to do was redo a dissertation,” Gallagher said, “but he didn’t do it.”
Easton argued that the motive is a mystery, but, he said there is no evidence to support James is guilty.
“Sometimes life doesn’t make sense. You have to go in that jury room, with the courage to speak those words,” said Easton. “If you don’t know, you have to say, ‘What is a ‘not guilty’ verdict?’ sometimes, other than ‘you don’t know.’”
“The question is, what happened? It’s a mystery,” he said. “And to that, I don’t know.”
Sarah Krauseneck’s testimony
Sarah was three at the time her mother Cathy was found dead.
According to attorneys, Sarah provided a written statement to Brighton Police in 1982, excusing her from testifying again in the trial.
Sarah wrote about getting up early, her father already at work, and someone in her home she didn’t know, a “bad man, possibly a woman, no clothes/glasses, sleeping in mommy and daddy’s bed with an ax in their head.”
Gallagher said this “bad man” was James, and Sarah was describing seeing her mother in an unrecognizable state.
“The only reasonable conclusion is James K went to his garage, grabbed the ax he had used over and over to chop wood, walked up his stairs […] and he killed Cathy K while she slept,” said Gallagher. “He made it look like someone came in, and then he went to work.”
Objects in the home
The prosecution argued the house did not appear burglarized on the day Cathy was found dead.
“You heard some officers, who were saying the burglary appeared contrived,” Gallagher said. “A gold necklace hanging on the door. Cash on the dress […] what kind of a burglar doesn’t take these things sitting out in the open? The kind that’s not committing a burglary.”
Gallagher also brought up an unusual tea set, lying on the floor as if it had been “carefully placed” there. And, of course, a key piece of evidence was the ax.
“Fingerprints were not on the ax,” said Easton. “DNA from the ax excludes James Krauseneck and Sarah. We can’t really nail that down.”
Time of Death
Testimony from several medical experts in this case leaves differing opinions on the time of death. Easton says the “best” perspective to calculate the time of death, is the original medical examiner, Dr. Evelyn Lewis, who died in 2018. Dr. Lewis calculated the time of death between 4:30 a.m. and 7:30 a.m., plus or minus two hours.
Dr. Michael Baden, a world-renowned medical examiner and forensic pathologist, took the stand early in the trial. Dr. Baden has assisted in many high-profile cases for decades, including the Attica prison riots, the OJ Simpson case, George Floyd’s death, Jeffrey Epstein’s death, and more.
After studying all the evidence, Baden said he believed Cathy Krauseneck died before James left for work that morning.
Baden said body stiffness, or “rigor mortis,” was observed by the original medical examiner that evening. He said it takes at least 12 hours after death to reach that level of rigor mortis.
In his opinion, this would mean Cathy died sometime between 9 p.m. the previous evening and 4 a.m. the next morning — well before James left for work.
Check back with News 8 WROC as we will continue to update this developing story.