The lawyer for James Krauseneck says the prosecution has "a weak case"

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cathleen Krauseneck murder
Cathy and James Krauseneck

Cathy Schlosser was a well-liked student at her Michigan high school, where she was a member of the homecoming court. James Krauseneck, who attended the same high school, was considered shy, pleasant and athletic. His family was well known in the community as the owners of a popular carpet business. 

Although the two didn't date in high school, they became a couple while attending Western Michigan University and married in 1974. By early 1982 they had all the makings of the American dream. They had a three-year-old daughter Sara and a house in Brighton, N.Y., near James' job as an economist at Eastman Kodak.

But, their seemingly perfect life was shattered on Feb. 19, 1982 when James returned home just before 5 p.m. and, according to him, found the garage door and another nearby door opened. According to James' account, there was glass on the floor, and when he ran upstairs, he found Cathy in their bedroom with an ax embedded in her forehead. Their daughter was unharmed in another room. 

cathleen Krauseneck murder
James Krauseneck

James said he scooped up his daughter and ran to a neighbor's house. The neighbor later told police the young father, then 30, had "a look of terror on his face" and seemed incapable of speech.

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For nearly four decades no arrests were made in the case. But in November 2019, that changed. James, now 69, was indicted by a grand jury on a second-degree murder charge. He has since pleaded not guilty and is free on bail.

For more on the murder of Cathy Krauseneck, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday, or subscribe here.

A pretrial hearing on his case is scheduled for Feb. 23, at which time his defense team will argue that charges against him should be dropped. 

"It's a weak case," Krauseneck's defense attorney William Easton tells PEOPLE in this week's issue. "It's emotional and it's gruesome, but you strip it down … that's why they didn't proceed for 40 years. It wasn't because of lack of trying." 

The defense believes that Cathy was likely killed by Edward Laraby, a convicted sex offender who confessed before his 2014 death not only to killing Cathy but murdering music teacher Stephanie Kupchynsky in 1991. However, authorities don't believe that he killed Cathy, convinced he was lying about his involvement.

"We feel confident he was not the killer," says William Gargan, Chief of the Domestic Violence Bureau in the Monroe County District Attorney's office. 

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Meanwhile, former high school friends of Cathy's just want answers. Former classmate Gary Hohf remembers her as "very bubbly, very friendly, and outgoing."

"She was very down to earth. Everybody liked Cathy," Hohf adds. "They couldn't believe it, that anyone would want to kill her, because she was just such a sweet, sweet person."