The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

February 25, 2013

Suspect seeks dismissal of homicide case

By Marcia Moore
The Daily Item

— MIDDLEBURG — Christopher J. Aucker wants homicide, conspiracy and perjury charges against him in Snyder County related to the July 1997 beating death of Donald E. Seebold III dropped because the commonwealth improperly used a statewide grand jury.

Aucker, 38, of Beavertown, also is asking to be tried separately from his co-defendants, Robert L. Reich, 37, of Beavertown, and Ryan C. Sprenkel, 36, of Middleburg.

The three are accused of beating Seebold, 22, to death during a day-long birthday celebration for Reich at the Port Ann home of his aunt, Linda Thomas. It took nearly 15 years before witnesses spoke out about the events surrounding Seebold’s death to the statewide grand jury.

Aucker’s attorney, Michael Rudinski, of Williamsport, is seeking to have the charges against him dismissed on the grounds that county District Attorney Michael Piecuch improperly used a statewide grand jury to make the case against Aucker.

“It should have been handled by a countywide grand jury,” he argued Monday before Senior Judge Louise O. Knight, adding that state grand juries should only be used in cases involving organized crime and public corruption.

The argument lacks merit and fails to show prejudice against Aucker, said Piecuch, who cited the high cost of creating and convening a county grand jury — which hasn’t been done in at least four decades — and the need for secrecy regarding the nearly 15-year-old homicide case.

In the years leading up to the grand jury investigation, he said, witnesses gave conflicting statements to police.

“Premature disclosure, including unwanted media attention, during an attempt to perform a county grand jury investigation would have ... jeopardized the investigation itself,” Piecuch said.

At least one witness who testified during the statewide grand jury in 2011 that she saw the attack on Seebold at the July 12, 1997, party and watched him being carried from the property by Reich and Sprenkel after Thomas ordered his removal has since recanted. Earlier this month, Jennifer Long testified that she lied under oath about the events after being intimidated and threatened by police.

Thomas and Aucker’s wife, Sheila Liddington Aucker, 37, are each charged with perjury stemming from their grand jury testimony denying any fight happened the day of the party.

They will be tried together, but separately from the three men, who are scheduled to be tried together beginning April 29.

Knight is expected to rule soon on Aucker’s motions to dismiss the charges or try his case alone.