Case begins against 2nd man in 1980 cop killing
Prosecutors are working on a second case in the killing of an off-duty Hammond police officer nearly 40 years ago, this time against a man they said went in the hotel where the officer was shot.
Pierre Catlett, 68, made his formal appearance Wednesday morning in Lake Superior Court on a murder charge from the Nov. 14, 1980, shooting of Lawrence Pucalik, who was working a side security job at Holiday Inn off Cline Avenue in Hammond.
In August, a jury found James Hill, who prosecutors said was the getaway driver, guilty of murder in perpetuation of robbery and attempted robbery. Hill, 55, was sentenced in October to 47 years in prison.
Catlett was brought to Lake County to face charges in Pucalik’s death after he was released in August from a lengthy prison sentence in Illinois.
Catlett’s case was set in motion Wednesday in the same courtroom, with the same judge and with the same prosecutors as Hill faced. Michael Solan, a retired Hammond detective who was a lead investigator on the case, was in the courtroom again, as he was throughout Hill’s trial.
Catlett pleaded not guilty Wednesday and is scheduled to appear in court again Jan. 2. Judge Salvador Vasquez set a trial date for Feb. 11.
Given the nature of the case, Catlett’s attorney, Robert Lee Lewis said, “we can’t go to trial in February.” Vasquez said the trial date is “not set in stone,” and they would reevaluate in January.
Catlett and Hill were two of three defendants, along with Larry Mayes, 69, when the case first was charged in 2012 and recharged in 2016. Mayes was found incompetent to stand trial after he had a stroke, attorneys said.
On Nov. 14, 1980, Pucalik was working at Holiday Inn when two men came in with handguns, demanding money from the register, according to court records.
Pucalik walked into the lobby, and “as he attempted to access his firearm, the officer was shot by one of the suspects,” according to court records.
At Hill’s trial, prosecutors said that Catlett and Mayes were the ones who went with guns into the Holiday Inn, while Hill waited outside in the getaway car.
More than 30 years passed between the shooting and charges first being filed. In that time, the only eyewitness to the shooting, the hotel clerk, died, according to court records.
Hill wanted to call his greatgrandmother and great-uncle as alibi witnesses to testify that he was at home with them as a high school student when the crime occurred, according to court records. But those relatives died in 1996 and 2008, respectively, said Scott King, Hill’s attorney.
At the time of the shooting, Hill was 17 years old, while Mayes and Catlett were in their 30s.
Hill maintained his innocence throughout his trial and at sentencing. King argued that civil cases were motivation for filing the charges against Hill in Pucalik’s death.
In 1982, Hill was convicted of kidnapping and raping a Hammond woman. He spent years in prison before his conviction was set aside in 2009. The following year, he filed a lawsuit against the city of Hammond and Solan. That case is ongoing.
Mayes, who also was Hill’s codefendant in that case, also had his conviction set aside. Mayes filed a similar civil suit and received $4.5 million.
Hill’s attorneys indicated at sentencing that he would appeal his criminal conviction.