By Marcia Moore
The Daily Item
— UPDATE: 4:30 p.m. Tuesday: The half-brother of murder suspect Robert Reich testified this afternoon that he helped Reich remove the body of Donald Seebold from the scene of a birthday party in Port Ann and place it along the Troxelville Road the night of July 12, 1997.
Kurt Gotshall said he saw Reich and others beat Seebold at the party, but said he never saw defendant Ryan Sprenkel land a punch. He also testified that he didn't come forward with the information for several years because he was afraid that his half-brother would retaliate against him.
Gotshall's testimony is scheduled to resume Wednesday morning.
Morning Update: Keith Buss testified this morning that he saw the three defendants, Christopher J. Aucker, Robert L. Reich and Ryan C. Sprenkel, punch and kick murder victim Donald E. Seebold III more than 100 times at the July 12, 1997 birthday party.
The beating occurred late in the afternoon, he testified. He also said that Reich urinated on Seebold during the beating.
In emotional testimony this morning, Seebold’s sister, Amanda Bloskey, said that her brother and Sprenkel were good friends, but she had seen them engage in verbal arguments, especially when they had been drinking.
Testimony for the prosecution was scheduled to continue this afternoon.
MIDDLEBURG — Snyder County District Attorney Michael Piecuch said it took more than a decade to break a “conspiracy of silence” surrounding the July 1997 beating death of Donald E. Seebold III, but the three men on trial for homicide say they’ve been falsely accused by witnesses who have given conflicting statements over the years.
Witnesses against Christopher J. Aucker, 39, and Robert L. Reich, 37, both of Beavertown, and Ryan C. Sprenkel, 37, of Middleburg, the trio accused of fatally beating Seebold, 21, of New Berlin, at a birthday party attended by between 50 and 100 people in Port Ann on July 12, 1997, started divulging details in 2005 about their alleged involvement after leading police to other suspects for years.
“Not one of these three was on the (original) list of suspects,” Aucker’s attorney, Michael Rudinski, told the jury in opening statements. “To believe the commonwealth, you have to believe that 100 people lied for eight years.”
Piecuch said Seebold was attacked and beaten at the party for flirting with Aucker’s then-girlfriend, now his wife, Sheila Liddington Aucker.
A barely conscious Seebold was removed from the property and driven by Reich and two others, his half-brother Kurt Gotshall and Brian Heckman, a few miles away and left on Troxelville Road, Piecuch has alleged.
Sprenkel and Aucker say they came upon Seebold lying in the road, and believing he was passed out from intoxication, put him in the back seat of Sprenkel’s Pontiac Trans Am, where he was found dead hours later.
Forensic pathologist Dr. Samuel Land testified that Seebold died from blunt force trauma to the head and described numerous defensive wounds to his arms and hand.
Although the assault happened in front of a large crowd, Piecuch said, they all stayed quiet for years to protect themselves and their families.
Denying any fight took place at the party, Rudinski said witnesses wanted to help police solve the murder and changed their story so many times “they can’t keep it straight.”
He told the jury at least one other person, Tim Steffen, an early suspect in the beating who was later cleared by police, is a more likely culprit since he and Seebold were involved in a relationship with the same woman.
Prosecution witness Karen Try admitted under cross-examination that she initially believed Steffen, her nephew, was involved in killing Seebold based on incriminating statements he was making at the time.
She testified about confronting him several months after Seebold’s death, but could not recall his response or details about what she told police during several interviews over the years due to the passage of time.
“It’s been a long time,” she said.
It was Try who first came upon Seebold as he lay facedown in the middle of Troxelville Road early in the morning of July 13, 1997, while she was driving home from a relative’s house.
She testified about having to slow down and swerve to avoid hitting him and described how he pushed her hand away as she tried to shake him awake. Noticing a beer can nearby, Try said she believed he had passed out and drove to a nearby store to call 911 from a pay phone.
After making the call, Try returned to the location where Seebold was and instead found two vehicles and some people milling about.
One of the men she saw that night was Reich, whom Try said she identified for the first time last Tuesday from a photograph in Piecuch’s office.
“What made an impression was his eyes,” she said, explaining how she was able to identify Reich nearly 16 years later after passing him on the side of the road in the middle of the night.
“He didn’t just look at me, he looked through me,” she said. “ His eyes were ice cold. In the DA’s office was the first time I’d seen those eyes again in 15 years.”
Try repeatedly testified under cross-examination by Rudinski, as well as Sprenkel’s attorney, Edward “E. J.” Rymsza, of Williamsport, and Reich’s attorney, Rachel Wiest Benner, of Sunbury, that she couldn’t recall whether she told police that she saw Steffen or Brian Swartzlander, another early suspect who has since been cleared, standing by the road where Seebold’s body was minutes earlier.
The first day of the scheduled two-week trial was interrupted numerous times, with lengthy sidebar and in-chamber discussions between the defense attorneys, prosecutor and Senior Judge Louise O. Knight.
Dr. Landis is expected to continue testifying when the trial resumes today.