Headlines, the Witness Protection Program, and Alternate History

Posted by JJinPhila on February 24, 2009 

           I like science fiction and its subgenre, alternate history.  If you are unfamiliar with it, it works like this.  Someone looks at an historical event and changes the outcome.  Hitler dies in childhood; Washington suggests a negotiated settlement to the American Revolution.  A. P Hill’s troops advance on Cemetery Ridge on the first day of the Battle of Gettysburg changed the outcome of the Civil War. 

Let’s apply this principle to the theory that Mr. Gricar went into the Witness Protection Program.  I don’t believe he did, and here is why. I will use a mock headline from the CDT to illustrate the point.  Remember, these are not real.


“Sun, Apr. 17, 2005


District Attorney Gricar Dead

Seattle – Longtime Centre County District Attorney Ray Gricar, 59, suffered a fatal heart attack while visiting his daughter, Lara, in Seattle, WA.  Mr. Gricar had served as District Attorney since 1985 and had announced that he would not be seeking a sixth term in …

…A service will held on May First where Mr. Gricar’s ashes will be scattered at sea, as he requested.


“Fri, Apr. 15, 2005


District Attorney to Take Job in Oregon

            Centre County District Attorney Ray Gricar, 59, submitted his resignation yesterday. He will be serving as an attorney with the Portland, Oregon firm of Stewart, Frakes and McFaddon.  In a written statement, Gricar said, ‘The opportunity was just too good, financially, to pass up.  It also has the advantage of being within a three hour drive of the residence of my daughter, Lara.’ 

            Gricar was first elected in 1985 and had announced that he would not be seeking  … .

            These are both hypothetical cover stories for Mr. Gricar entering into the Federal Witness Protection Program.  The first one may have generated one or two days of news stories.  The first would be sad, with his local colleagues and friends being shocked, but nearly four years later, would I be writing about it?  No, and neither would anyone else.  He would be dead and gone, so far as the general public was concerned. 

            Since this was a federal government program, they probably would have the clout to create a false death certificate for the file.

            In the second case, Mr. Gricar could be listed as “working” for this firm and finally “retiring” after two or three years.  He could be a “consultant” so he wouldn’t have to join the Oregon Bar.  Any calls regarding him made to the law firm could be forwarded to a Witness Protection Program office, with a Federal Marshall posing as his secretary.  Once again, no one would be looking for him.

            And here is one of my favorites, the direct approach.  This one is not real either:


“Mon, Apr. 18, 2005


Gricar Resigns, in Witness Protection Program

            Centre County District Attorney Ray Gricar’s signed resignation letter was found on the desk in his office, after he was reported missing by his girlfriend, Patty Fornicola, on Friday.  The text of the letter, addressed to President Judge Charles C. Brown, Jr., said in full, “I hereby resign from the office of District Attorney as I will be entering the Witness Protection Program.”

Deputy U.S. Marshal Jonathan Archer, of the Federal Witness Protection Program, confirmed that Gricar entered the program on Friday.  Archer would not disclose the reasons why Gricar was receiving Federal Protection.

“When I first read the letter, I thought it was some kind of a joke,” said …

            Now, for the next fortnight, everyone in Centre County would be asking what Mr. Gricar witnessed.   Then the story would die.  No new stories, web sites, or message board chatter.  Mr. Gricar is gone, and safe.

After nearly four years, it doesn’t look like he witnessed anything.  There has been no indictment, no hint of a federal investigation of wrongdoing in Centre County and no suggestion of anything that Mr. Gricar witnessed.  The Witness Protection Program protects people that witness a crime and may be threatened by the perpetrator, or the perpetrator’s cohorts.  It does not protect prosecutors that prosecute the perpetrator. 

And it still ends up much easier to concoct a cover story or simply tell the truth.  Then there would be no CDT archive of stories, nothing on CNN, no “Missed Leads” story by Mr. Bosak, no Dateline piece, no press conference by Mr. Buehner and Mr. McKnight, no “Ray Gricar” sections on message boards, and frankly, no “J. J. in Phila.”


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