By Ashley M. Wislock
and Rick Dandes
The Daily Item
MIDDLEBURG — Two men acquitted of murder charges tossed Tootsie Rolls and hard candy from the cab of a Ford F-150 at Thursday night’s Firemans Carnival Parade, the pickup truck adorned with large signs trumpeting their not guilty verdict in May.
In the truck were Chris Aucker and Robert L. Reich, two of the three defendants acquitted after a nine-day trial in the 1997 slaying of Donald Seebold II.
A third acquitted defendant, Ryan C. Sprenkel, was not in the parade.
“He didn’t want to come tonight,” Aucker said of Sprenkel.
Aucker, 39, of Beavertown, is a married, father of two and said the 14 months he spent in Snyder County Jail waiting for his day in court have changed his life.
“It’s very difficult,” he said. “I’ve been out three months now and I’m just trying to stay focused.”
During Thursday’s parade — an annual tradition attended by thousands of Middleburg and Valley residents — Aucker struck back in a big way, using two huge banners to reveal exactly where he places the blame for the trio’s prosecution.
The 4-foot by 6-foot signs on his truck featured red lettering on a blue background and had pictures of Snyder County District Attorney Michael Piecuch and Middleburg District Judge Lori Hackenberg heading into a garbage can.
Next to those images are pictures of the three defendants under large, red letters that read “NOT GUILTY.”
The signs also question the $17,000 cost of the trial, an estimate Piecuch released following the trio’s acquittal.
Aucker said the signs were his idea, but that he asked his former co-defendants for their blessing before finalizing plans.
“I thought about doing this the day after the verdict,” he said about an hour before the parade. “The media portrayed us all as bad guys, but we’re not and wanted everyone to know that.”
Aucker said he heard some cheers as he drove in the parade, “and a few boos, too. But I’m 100 percent glad that I did this. I have absolutely no regrets.”
Aucker is still angered at authorities, particularly Piecuch.
“I’d like to know how you can close a case like this, even after three people are acquitted,” Aucker said.
Charges against Aucker’s wife, Sheila Liddington Aucker, and Reich’s aunt, Linda Thomas — accused of lying to a grand jury about the events surrounding Seebold’s death — were dropped when Aucker, Sprenkel and Reich were found not guilty.
For Piecuch, the case that sparked Thursday’s protest is a done deal. Following the verdict, Piecuch said there would be no more investigation into Seebold’s death.
“I respect the jury’s verdicts,” Piecuch said at the time, “but I also consider this case closed.”