By Marcia Moore
The Daily Item
Amanda Bloskey sobbed Thursday afternoon as a Snyder County jury announced three men not guilty of beating to death her older brother, Donald E. Seebold II, nearly 16 years ago.
“Oh God,” she wept, as her mother, Georgia, clutched her hand in comfort.
On the other side of the aisle inside the Middleburg courtroom, family and friends of Robert L. Reich, Christopher J. Aucker and Ryan C. Sprenkel cried tears of joy and embraced.
The three men were immediately released from custody after spending 14 months in jail without bail awaiting trial on criminal homicide, conspiracy and perjury charges related to Seebold’s death on July 13, 1997, and their 2011 testimony before a statewide grand jury convened to assess evidence in the case.
The not-guilty verdicts on all charges came after a nine-day trial presided over by Senior Judge Louise O. Knight and three hours of deliberation that involved the jury considering charges of first-degree murder, third-degree murder or voluntary manslaughter.
The father of two, Aucker, 39, of Beavertown, wiped tears from his eyes and hugged his defense attorney, Michael Rudinski.
Displeased with the verdicts, an unidentified friend of the Seebold family angrily lashed out against the three men.
“You are all murderers,” she shouted as a sheriff deputy escorted her out of the courtroom. “It will follow you. Everything you do.”
There will be no further investigation into the case, District Attorney Michael Piecuch said.
“I respect the jury’s verdicts, but I also consider this case closed,” he said.
Because of the acquittals, Piecuch said, perjury charges will be dropped against Aucker’s wife, Sheila Liddington Aucker, and Reich’s aunt, Linda Thomas, who were accused of lying to the grand jury about the events surrounding Seebold’s death.
Aucker and Sprenkel, 37, of Middleburg, said they had no doubt their trial would end in an acquittal.
“I spent 14 months in jail for nothing,” Sprenkel added as he walked out of court with his parents.
Reich’s father, Gary Gotshall, of Beavertown, and Aucker’s father, Barry Aucker, of Watsontown, were visibly relieved.
“I got my son back,” Gotshall said, holding back tears.
He denied Seebold was brutally beaten at his home during an all-day birthday celebration for Reich, 37, of Beavertown, that drew between 50 and 100 people in mid-July 1997.
Sprenkel, Aucker and Reich were each accused of punching and kicking Seebold, 22, of New Berlin, so severely he died from blunt-force trauma to the head.
For years the case remained unsolved until 2005, when Reich’s half-brother and sister-in-law, Kurt and Beth Gotshall, told police Seebold was beaten by one or more of the defendants after he flirted with Liddington Aucker, who was Aucker’s girlfriend at the time.
It took several more years for police, with the aid of the grand jury convened in 2011, to gather enough evidence to file charges.
At the trial, several prosecution witnesses who testified seeing one or more of the defendants beating Seebold at the party also admitted lying to police or at prior court hearings. About a dozen defense witnesses testified there was no fight and the defense attorneys suggested Tim Steffen, an early suspect, had a better motive for wanting to harm Seebold because both were seeing the same woman.
James Best, who served as Reich’s attorney with co-counsel Rachel Wiest Benner, described the past year since their arrest as a “long ordeal” for each of them and expressed gratitude to the jury for the outcome.
Both attorneys scoffed at the commonwealth case that alleged a lengthy coverup of a murder committed over an alleged mild flirtation at a party attended by as many as 100 people.
“This is a case of a lifetime, to represent someone charged with murder on egregious evidence whose innocence is so clear-cut,” Wiest Benner said. “And there were three (defendants) in this case.”
Rudinski joined the other defense attorneys in expressing sympathy for the Seebold family.
“But they got the wrong guy,” he said.
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