The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

May 9, 2013

DA to jurors: 'Core truths' permeate case

By Marcia Moore
The Daily Item

MIDDLEBURG — Attorneys for three Snyder County men accused of fatally beating a 22-year-old New Berlin resident to death nearly 16 years ago said in closing arguments Wednesday the evidence against them is based on lies told by unbelievable witnesses.

Each of the attorneys representing Robert L. Reich, 37, Christopher J. Aucker, 39, and Ryan C. Sprenkel, 37, asked for acquittals on all charges — murder, conspiracy and perjury — arguing District Attorney Michael Piecuch failed to prove they were responsible for killing Donald E. Seebold III, who was found dead July 13, 1997.

“This is a misjustice for these (defendants) and a misjustice for the Seebolds,” said Aucker’s attorney, Michael Rudinski, as Seebold’s younger sister, Amanda Bloskey, wept.

Testimony lasted 7 days

Closing arguments were delivered after more than seven days of testimony. The jury of eight women and four men will begin deliberating today.

Piecuch alleges Seebold was fatally assaulted by Reich, Aucker and Sprenkel after he flirted with Aucker’s then girlfriend, now wife, Sheila Liddington Aucker, during a birthday party celebration in Port Ann on the mid-July evening in 1997.

Sprenkel and Aucker claimed they found Seebold lying semi-conscious on the side of Troxelville Road a few miles from the party. Believing Seebold was passed out from intoxication, Sprenkel left him in the back seat of his car where he was found dead the next day.

Forensic pathologist Dr. Samuel Land testified that Seebold died of blunt-force trauma from at least three blows to the head.

For years, Piecuch said, investigators chased false leads and rumor that led to Tim Steffen and Brian Swartzlander being identified as suspects.

Both were later cleared of any involvement.

“Veil of secrecy”: 8 years

It took eight years for the “veil of secrecy” to lift and for several witnesses to come forward and admit a fight occurred at the party.

Piecuch said that turned the investigation in a new direction and eventually toward Reich, Aucker and Sprenkel.

Among those witnesses was Reich’s half-brother, Kurt Gotshall, Brian Heckman and Keith Buss, all of whom changed their stories and admitted lying to police and in court hearings before testifying last week that Seebold was beaten at the party.

Piecuch agreed that some of the prosecution witnesses’ testimony was confusing, but that there were “core truths” to it and that a beating fueled by testosterone and alcohol led to Seebold’s death.

Rudinski, Best and his co-counsel Rachel Wiest Benner, and Sprenkel’s attorney, Edward “E.J.” Rymsza, presented about a dozen witnesses who denied any fight or altercation took place at the party. Several recalled seeing Seebold alive and on his feet in the early morning hours of July 13, 1997, as the party wound down.

A secret among 50 to 100?

The defense attorneys argued it would have been impossible to keep Seebold’s death a secret if he had been fatally beaten at the party attended by between 50 and 100 people.

Rudinski said the defense witnesses were more credible compared with Gotshall, Heckman and Buss.

“They lied to the grand jury, at preliminary hearings and to state police, and today they want you to convict these people on all their lies,” he said.

Though he told the jury in opening statements that Aucker would testify, he decided against it after the commonwealth introduced as evidence Aucker’s testimony from the 2011 grand jury in which he described finding Seebold in the road and thinking he was passed out, had been beaten or hit by a car.

Finishing the fights

Piecuch argued that Aucker didn’t want to testify and risk cross-examination on his statements about Sprenkel frequently getting into fights and Seebold having to finish them for him.

Best said the motive the commonwealth gave for the brutal assault makes no sense and echoed Rudinski’s theory that Steffen is a better suspect because he and Seebold had been in an altercation before and had dated the same woman.

“We think Donnie had a good time at the party,” Best said, describing a possible scenario that had Seebold walking from the party as he had on prior occasions and encountering Steffen along the way.

Not mystery-solvers

Rymsza said there was no physical evidence linking Sprenkel to the killing of his good friend.

“Your role is not to solve a mystery. You’re not here to determine what actually happened,” he said, asking the jury to weigh the credibility of all the witnesses. “The prosecution is asking you to guess.”

The trial will resume this morning with the jury receiving instructions from Senior Judge Louise O. Knight on the charges — which include either first-degree or third-degree murder or voluntary manslaughter — before they begin deliberations.

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