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Kate Petrocco, left, was the victim services program manager for the Adams County District Attorney’s Office. She was found dead on July 14. She is pictured here with her father. (Provided by Moira Sharkey)

The death of an Adams County victim advocate who said she had a romantic relationship with District Attorney Dave Young has been ruled a suicide.

The Adams County Coroner’s Office found that Kate Petrocco died of asphyxiation due to hanging, a finding confirmed by Denver’s Office of the Medical Examiner. 9News first reported and obtained the autopsy report and ruling on Tuesday.

Petrocco, a 36-year-old mother of two, was found dead in her home in Brighton on July 14. She wrote in a divorce filing submitted to the court in February that she had been having a romantic relationship with Young in the months before her death.

Petrocco worked in Young’s office and said in a sworn affidavit that she began the relationship with Young in late October 2018. That was just a few months after she started working at the district attorney’s office in August 2018 as the agency’s victim services program manager, responsible for overseeing victims’ compensation and restitution. 

Petrocco’s family had raised questions about the investigation of her death. Moira Sharkey, Petrocco’s sister, said she feels “somebody killed my sister” and demanded that Young be firewalled from the investigation while not suggesting or implying Young had something to do with her sister’s death.

MORE: Adams County DA had “romantic relationship” with victim advocate who died last month, court record says

Young said his office never had anything to do with the review of Petrocco’s death. The Adams County Sheriff’s Office, which investigated the death, said it worked with the coroner’s office on the case.

“An extensive investigation by Adams County Sheriff’s Office detectives determined the case to be an apparent suicide,” the sheriff’s office said in a statement on Tuesday.

According to the autopsy report, investigators found that before her death, Petrocco had used her phone to search different ways to die by suicide. 

“There were no signs of forced entry or a struggle at the residence,” the autopsy said. “There were no defensive injuries on the body indicative of a struggle.”

The Adams County Coroner’s Office said that it consulted with Denver’s Office of the Medical Examiner on the case. Both reports detailed the absence of injuries to Petrocco that would have suggested a struggle against an attacker. 

“There is no evidence, either at the scene or from the autopsy findings, that provides an alternate cause of death,” wrote Dr. James Caruso, a forensic pathologist with Denver’s Office of the Medical Examiner. “… There is also no evidence at this point that anyone else was in the residence with the decedent and that perhaps her death was some unusual accident. Therefore, with the information made available for my review, the manner of death in my opinion is suicide.”

Caruso also noted that homicides don’t typically occur by hanging, calling them “virtually non-existent.” 

Colorado Crisis Line: A statewide hotline. 1-844-493-8255, or text TALK to 38255.

Petrocco was the daughter of former 18th Judicial District Court Judge Gerald Rafferty, who presided over the high-profile murder case against Sir Mario Owens. She married into the well-known Adams County Petrocco family and for years was the public face of Petrocco Farms’ Brighton-based produce operation.

She filed for divorce from Dave Petrocco Jr. early last year, court records show.

Kate Petrocco noted in divorce filings reviewed by The Sun that there had been criminal domestic violence charges filed against her husband in January 2018 related to the split. Court records confirm he pleaded guilty to third-degree assault and criminal mischief — both misdemeanors. 

David Petrocco Jr.’s family has defended him and emphasized that he had nothing to do with Kate’s death.

Sharkey told The Sun over the summer that she didn’t think her sister would die by suicide. “We believe, without a doubt, that she would not leave her children,” she said.

On Tuesday, Sharkey said that she had not had a chance to read the autopsy report in full. 

“I very much still feel that the assessment of suicide is inaccurate,” she said. 

Jesse Paul

The Colorado Sun — Desk: 720-432-2229 Jesse Paul is a political reporter and editor at The Colorado Sun, covering the state legislature, Congress and local politics. He is...