SPRING CHURCH (KDKA) — Early on Jan. 16, police cruisers and the Armstrong County Coroner’s van clogged a normally quiet street in Spring Church.
The body of 43-year-old James Sapinsky was discovered by his fiancée Kimberly Peterson on the floor of his home’s family room. A June wedding was planned.
“Died of a result of a gun shot wound to the chest,” said Lt. Steven Ignatz at the time.
But what appeared to be a homicide initially was in reality a suicide.
“There were just some signs that made my antennae as a forensic pathologist quiver,” Dr. Cyril Wecht, who performed the autopsy, said.
His observations coupled with state police evidence findings didn’t add up to murder.
“The trajectory fitted with a right-handed person holding the gun and shooting himself in the chest,” Wecht said.
“It was probably on of the most complex investigations we had in any death case,” says Armstrong County District Attorney Scott Andreassi.
Arriving police saw walls spattered with blood.
“We believe the blood was put there before he shot himself,” Andreassi said.
In staging his death, Sapinsky looped rope around his wrists as if he’d been tied, broke a window, and knocked over a lamp.
“What struck us most though, was the fact, there didn’t appear to be a struggle,” Andreassi said.
Investigators learned that Sapinsky had been fired from his job as a nurse at Forbes Regional Hospital – possibly related to missing drugs. His divorce was pending, his home was in foreclosure, bills were unpaid – all except on his life insurance policy.
“Not only was it current, about two weeks prior to his death, he called the insurance company to make sure his son’s name was spelled right.”
Sapinsky’s son, who is in college, was the beneficiary. An insurance policy does not ordinarily pay in cases of suicide.
“All these pieces as best we could tell, were piling up and he just couldn’t handle it anymore,” Andreassi said.
Dr. Wecht agrees that “staged suicides” are rare and he commends the district attorney and state police investigators for doing such a thorough job.