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Murder Charge Against Onetime Suspect In Serial Killings Formally Dropped

July 29, 1991

NEW BEDFORD, Mass. (AP) _ Prosecutors today formally dropped a murder charge against a man who had been named as a suspect in a homicide believed to be the work of a serial killer.

″We’re going to continue from here. The investigation continues,″ said Bristol County District Attorney Paul Walsh Jr. ″I don’t feel one way or the other about how it is going. We have a job to do and we do it.″

Kenneth Ponte, a lawyer, was indicted last year in the 1988 killing of Rochelle Clifford Dopierala. He had remained free.

But Special Prosecutor Paul V. Buckley has said a grand jury did not have enough evidence when it indicted Ponte on the murder charge. Winning a conviction would be virtually impossible, he said.

The bodies of nine women were found along highways around New Bedford between July 1988 and April 1989. Police believe the murders were the work of a serial killer.

The charge against Ponte had been pursued by former District Attorney Ronald A. Pina, who was ousted by Walsh in an election last year.

During the campaign, Walsh accused Pina of bungling the investigation and using the grand jury for political gain by pushing for an indictment a month before the election.

On Saturday, the body of 29-year-old Anthony DeGrazia, who also had once been named as a suspect in the killings, was found outside a house in Freetown. Authorities were awaiting final autopsy results, but did not suspect foul play.

DeGrazia had never been charged in any of the slayings.