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When Katy died in 1986, she was 19, the second oldest of four children raised in Central New York. Joe was 16, Carey 17, and Betsy 21.
“When somebody’s passed, you always say these wonderful things about them,” Carey Hawelka Patton said. “But they’re true.”
The kind of sisters who are best friends, Carey and Katy were almost inseparable through adolescence at Henninger High School in Syracuse. Quarrels among the siblings were often broken up by Katy, whose smile was as exceptionally warm as her wit was sharp.
Graduating from Henninger, Katy headed 142 miles north to Clarkson University in Potsdam to study business. The day after arriving for her sophomore year in August 1986, Katy was attacked, beaten, raped and strangled outside the university’s Walker Arena. She died three days later on Sept. 1, Watertown doctors declaring her brain dead and the Hawelka family agreeing to discontinue life support.
Her death, now 35 years ago, is marked by two university security guards; a five-page, single-spaced autopsy report; a second-degree murder conviction for a north country man; six parole hearings turning to seven this week; and an unwavering fight to keep Brian M. McCarthy in prison.
“This is our job now,” Joseph Hawelka Jr. said. “He murdered my sister. He’s already been given the time, now he needs to serve it.”
The attack happened at about 3:30 a.m. Aug. 29, Katy having walked back toward her campus apartment with a friend after the village bars closed. When the pair parted, Katy cut through a parking area behind Walker, where McCarthy smashed her face into the building’s facade. During an afternoon interrogation that day, he told Potsdam police: “I had all my weight behind me.”
Two Clarkson security guards, Kim P. Avadikian and Donald R. Shanty, were on duty during the attack. Mr. Avadikian was tasked with securing the inside of the arena, and Mr. Shanty was patrolling campus in a vehicle. Later that morning, the men told the Potsdam Police Department what they saw.
In his statement to police, Mr. Avadikian described hearing what sounded like someone banging on the doors of Walker and asking Mr. Shanty to check on it. Pulling behind Walker in his patrol car, headlights aimed, Mr. Shanty said he saw what he thought was a consenting couple having sex, telling police he “didn’t think too much of the guy and the girl being there” because he had seen students having sex in “unusual places” on campus before.
He left the scene to talk with Mr. Avadikian, both returning in the vehicle and shining headlights on the two people, only to leave again. Pulling up a third time, the guards noticed the man — McCarthy — was gone, and the woman — Katy — was still lying on the ground.
“It was at this point that we realized something was wrong,” Mr. Shanty told police.
Bruised and bloodied beyond recognition and with defensive wounds apparent, Katy was only partially covered by her blouse. She was taken to Canton-Potsdam Hospital, then to House of the Good Samaritan, today Samaritan Medical Center, in Watertown.
The guards and village police apprehended McCarthy, who was crouched next to a set of stairs some 50 feet away from Katy.
A flurry of activity followed that day: medical staff attended Katy, police conducted interviews and the family was contacted.
While Katy was in the hospital, McCarthy, then 23, was charged with first-degree rape and assault, and additionally charged with second-degree murder when Katy died.
McCarthy, whose story started changing in the hours after the attack, calling Katy “the girl,” carried with him a long list of juvenile and adult charges. He drifted from lodgings in Northern New York after returning from living in Texas and Virginia. He had been arrested on burglary, theft and forgery charges in St. Lawrence County, and served 10 months of a two-year prison sentence in Virginia for stealing a car, though the charge was reduced to unauthorized use of a motor vehicle.
At the time of the attack, McCarthy was on probation through a New York transfer and an early release deal stemming from the Virginia offense.
Pleading guilty to Katy’s murder on Aug. 13, 1987, McCarthy was sentenced by now retired St. Lawrence County Court Judge Eugene L. Nicandri that September. His term: 23 years to life in prison, out of a possible 25 to life.
The Syracuse Post-Standard and the city’s broadcast channel covered Katy’s murder extensively, and north country print news, including the Times, Massena Observer, Ogdensburg Journal and Courier and Freeman, followed McCarthy’s court appearances and the university’s response for years.
After McCarthy was imprisoned, the Hawelkas, led by Katy’s parents Terry Ryan Taber and the late Joseph Hawelka Sr., took her killer and Clarkson University to state Supreme Court. In McCarthy’s case, a $3.5 million judgment, of $250 million sought, was handed down in favor of the family. Originally pressed for $300 million for negligence, Clarkson settled with the family’s attorneys in September 1988, on terms that the university would upgrade campus security and issue a public apology for ever blaming Katy for what happened to her.
In the aftermath of the attack, university officials referenced Katy’s actions — including drinking beer earlier in the night and walking home at 3:30 a.m. The director of counseling services told the Ogdensburg Journal that students would be reminded of that kind of “decision-making.”
The parties also agreed not to disclose the settlement’s amount.
The arena is now called Walker Center and has since been renovated substantially. The path leading to the area where Katy was attacked is barred by a locked gate. Characteristic of 21st century college campuses, emergency phones, illuminated in blue, dot Clarkson’s 640 acres.
In an email this week, university spokesperson Kelly O. Chezum wrote that the day of Katy’s attack was “the darkest day in the 125-year history of Clarkson University.”
A letter opposing parole for McCarthy was again submitted to the state Board of Parole this year, she wrote. Clarkson’s message: “We submit that justice, and the physical safety and emotional wellbeing of our campus community, require that Mr. McCarthy be denied parole and that he serve the rest of his natural life in prison.”
McCarthy faced parole commissioners for the first time in 2009, a grueling and obscure process for the family, and an experience Carey recalled as “extremely difficult.”
Seated in a room with a commissioner and a stenographer, she thought: “They’re going to type this up, and I hope that I’m conveying how devastating this was. I hope that I’m conveying, with enough conviction, how much we feel as though he can never be released.”
To oppose McCarthy’s release this year, family and friends gave their statements last month.
During an inmate’s interview, usually a few weeks after victims make a case, two or three commissioners are present, with prison staff and a stenographer. The maximum interval between parole hearings in New York is two years, though state legislation has been proposed to increase that maximum to five years.
Versions of Assembly and Senate bills to increase the parole eligibility interval have been introduced every year since 2009. The proposed increase is called Lorraine’s Law, after the 1988 murder of 24-year-old Lorraine Miranda in Staten Island. The bill is in committee in both the Assembly and Senate as of this month.
“The convict,” as Joe most often refers to McCarthy, is scheduled for his seventh parole interview this week, and the family has become versed in the system, its shortcomings and their rights guaranteed by state law and the Office of Victim Assistance.
The Board of Parole comprises 16 commissioners appointed to six-year terms by the governor. Victims have the option of delivering impact statements to the board roughly a month before an inmate is scheduled for their hearing. Statements can be relayed in person, in a conference call or submitted in writing.
Joe and Carey, as well as their mother, and sister Betsy Hawelka McInerney, provide statements in several forms and include photographs of Katy.
“We are told that they have to read everything that is given as part of victims’ statements,” Carey said. “So we give them everything.”
Responsible for potential parolees across 50 state-run prisons, commissioners can see dozens of inmates a day, for a few days, until they move on to the next scheduled session somewhere else.
“At what point might you zone out?” Joe said. “It’s a huge assumption on my part, but I can certainly see it happening. I would like to believe that my statement has an impact on their decision.”
Though requested transcripts of McCarthy’s hearings take months to reach the family, the Hawelkas have generally received prompt “parole denied” notices from the state, within a week or two of a hearing.
The 2019 process was an exception.
When the family started calling the Office of Victim Assistance the week after they believed McCarthy had been interviewed, there was no news. A “sympathetic ear” in Albany, Joe said, finally told the family McCarthy rescheduled his own hearing. He was facing disciplinary charges — not for the first time — and didn’t want to be interviewed until he could appeal the internal matter.
“I didn’t want that to be swept under the rug, I didn’t want that to be forgotten and I certainly didn’t want him to be able to portray that he’s been a model prisoner,” Joe said, adding that he wrote a letter specifically in response to the rescheduling. “We were in the dark for months. Finally, we got notification that parole was denied.”
Currently an inmate at Cayuga Correctional Facility, McCarthy is 58. He’s been moved regularly, serving his sentence at more than 10 correctional facilities, including Marcy, Downstate, Attica, Clinton, Auburn, Elmira, Orleans and Cape Vincent.
McCarthy’s story about the attack, Joe said, “always changes a little bit.” Perhaps the most consistent element of McCarthy’s hearings is his lack of remorse.
“The one thing he never changes, is taking full responsibility,” Joe said. “He’s always trying to minimize his actions and the result of what he did.”
During his first hearing, McCarthy was asked to describe the last and clearest memory of the attack. His response: “Striking Kathy Walker.”
Joe recalled reading one of the six previous hearing transcripts and learning McCarthy mispronounced their last name so poorly the stenographer noted it.
The weekend the Chicago Bears played the New England Patriots in the 1986 Super Bowl, the Bears winning 46 to 10, Carey and Joe drove to Potsdam to visit their sister. They slept in Katy’s dorm, met her friends and went to a hockey game.
“When I was a freshman in college, if you told me that I had two siblings that were 15 and 16 coming to visit me, that wouldn’t have happened,” Joe said. “I don’t know why I was invited or included, but I went.”
Memories of that visit, and the summer between Katy’s first and second Clarkson move-ins, are especially cherished, Joe said.
Their parents were divorced, and Joe lived with his dad in Oneida during the school year. With a first job — at a grocery store where Katy previously worked — and a girlfriend near Syracuse, Joe lived with his mom and sisters the summer of Katy’s death. Betsy, the oldest, was working in Florida by then. “I had that summer, my last summer with my sister,” he said. “I think you start relating to your siblings better as you mature, and today is the closest I feel with my sister Katy.”
Katy would have celebrated her 54th birthday on June 18.
Her family continues to post updates and submission instructions for letters to the Board of Parole @4KatyHawelka on Facebook.
Following McCarthy’s hearing, the Hawelkas expect to learn the parole board’s decision the week of April 26.