By Marcia Moore
The Daily Item
MIDDLEBURG — Update from 12:30 today:
The mother of one of the defendents in the Donald Seebold murder trial testifed Tuesday morning her other son - who testified last week that he helped move Seebold's unconscious body - could not have transported the body in his pickup truck because he was in bed after drinking too much at the party.
Jean Gotshall, the mother of defendent Robert Reich and his half-brother Kurt Gotshall, was one of several witnesses to testify Tuesday who said there was no confrontation or fight involving Seebold.
Kurt Gotshall testified last week that, along with two others including Reich, he moved a battered Seebold from the scene in the back of his truck. His mother said Tuesday her son drank so much that he vomited, she put him to bed at 9:30 p.m. and she took the keys to his truck. Jean Gotshall said Kurt and his truck never left her house, which is next door to the property where the party was.
A defense witness in the Donald E. Seebold III homicide trial testified Monday in Snyder County Court that an early suspect who was later cleared in Seebold’s July 1997 beating death admitted he was involved in a “fight that got out hand.”
Troy Delong testified that persistent rumors about his friend Tim Steffen’s alleged involvement in Seebold’s death prompted him to ask whether the rumors were true and Steffen broke down in tears as he replied, “It was a fight that got out of hand. I never intended it to go that far.”
Steffen and another early suspect, Brian Swartzlander, were eventually cleared of any involvement in Seebold’s death after police determined they hadn’t attended a party where Seebold, 21, of New Berlin, was fatally beaten.
The investigation took a turn in late summer 2005 when Beth Gotshall informed police that Seebold was beaten up while attending a birthday party for Robert L. Reich in Port Ann on July 12, 1997, after he put his arm around Aucker’s then-girlfriend, now wife, Sheila Liddington Aucker. Gotshall implicated Reich and Aucker in the fatal beating.
It took numerous other witnesses to come forward and several more years before District Attorney Michael Piecuch took the case to a statewide jury which recommended homicide, conspiracy and perjury charges be filed against Reich, 37, and Aucker, 39, both of Beavertown, and Ryan C. Sprenkel, 37, of Middleburg.
The trio was arrested last year and are being tried together. Each is being defended by separate attorneys.
Piecuch rested his case Friday after calling 16 witnesses, several of whom described seeing one or all the defendants in a fight with Seebold at the party.
Keith Buss testified last week that he saw Reich urinate on Seebold as he lay on the ground. On Monday, Senior Judge Louise O. Knight told the jury that urine was detected on the back and shoulder of Seebold’s shirt, but it could not be linked to any individual.
Before the trial began, Knight established that each defendant would present his case in alphabetical order
Aucker’s defense attorney, Michael Rudinski, said there was no fight at the party and Seebold was most likely assaulted somewhere else after encountering Steffen with whom he had argued over a woman.
Corinna Sprenkel, no relation to Ryan Sprenkel, testified that she had relationships with both Steffen and Seebold at different times and didn’t recall them ever getting into a physical disagreement.
Party attendees Heather Aucker, Chris Aucker’s former sister-in-law, Wendi Krouse and Stacey Dorman said there was no fight at the party.
Dorman said she was at the party briefly and recalled seeing Swartzlander there. A Mifflin County probation officer and treatment court coordinator, Dorman testified that she was interviewed five times by state police who challenged her recollection.
“I felt uncomfortable,” she said. “I felt they didn’t believe me, that I wasn’t sharing everything I knew.”
Sprenkel’s former wife, Brandi Baumgardner, said Steffen wasn’t with her the night of the party and that she didn’t believe him when he later denied killing Seebold.
Under questioning by the prosecutor, Delong testified that his friendship with Steffen ended in 1998 when he began dating Baumgardner following their separation.
Defense attorney James Best, who is representing Reich, along with co-counsel Rachel Wiest Benner, made his opening statement to the jury Monday afternoon after Rudinski notified the court that his remaining witnesses wouldn’t be available until today.
Best said Reich had nothing to do with Seebold’s death and the man with the clearest motive in the case is Steffen.
“Donnie Seebold deserves justice,” he told the jury. “But convicting the wrong guy for his murder is not justice.”
Best added that it “defies common sense” that dozens of people who attended the party, including neighbors and casual acquaintances, would stay quiet about a fatal fight taking place, if it had occurred, or that Reich would participate in the killing of a friend over a minor flirtation with another friend’s girlfriend.
He also called into question the credibility of prosecution witnesses such as Kurt and Beth Gotshall, who admittedly changed their stories over the years.
The defense case is scheduled to resume this morning. Sprenkel’s attorney, Edward “E.J.” Rymsza, is expected to call witnesses later this week.