A Grand Jury

Posted by JJinPhila on June 13, 2009 

            This is the first in a series of blogs about what can be done now to advance the investigation into the disappearance of former Centre County District Attorney Ray Gricar.  This particular subject is one I’ve tackled before, a grand jury to investigate the Ray Gricar disappearance.  I think it is time to renew that call.

            I have not been alone in calling for a grand jury.  Robert W. Buehner, Jr. the current District Attorney of Montour County, has called for one to be empanelled in this case.  Grand juries can investigate things that might be crimes.  Mr. Gricar’s disappearance might be a crime, the result of foul play.

            What can a grand jury do?  Well, there are several reasons.  First, the grand jury can subpoena documents1.  They issue reports, or “presentments.”  Their have been, in the words of Mr. Gricar’s nephew, Tony, “mistakements” to the press, public, and apparently to the family.  One of these was a statement was Mr. Gricar’s fingerprints were found in his car.  After checking the report from the Pennsylvania State Police, it was discovered that there were no readable prints within the car.  Other information, that was never released, has trickled out in even the past year, including that one of the witnesses that saw Mr. Gricar Wilkes-Barre after he disappeared was a police officer, and that Mr. Gricar had expressed an interest in, and done computer searches on, eliminating the data on the laptop.  The latter, at least, was unknown to the family, even though the police had that information for about two and a half years.  A grand jury will have access to these reports and to evidence not accessible to the public; it can subpoena them.  There would no more “mistakements” and the grand jury would have a complete view of what the police discovered. 

            Second, and possibly most importantly, the grand jury can subpoena people.  Also in the last eight months, it has been reported that there was no time line developed on a friend of Mr. Gricar who matched the description of the “mystery woman” seen in Lewisburg.  Did the friend of Mr. Gricar’s offer the information but the police declined follow up?  Did she decline to cooperate?  That has never been reported.  Further, they can ask for more.  For example, if there was a reasonable suspicion that some individual met Mr. Gricar on 4/15-16/05, the various records of that individual could be subpoenaed.  They could look to see if that person made cell calls from the Lewisburg area, or if they were a few thousand miles away, sending an e-mail or posting on a message board.

            Third, this is an election year, and the Gricar case is a legitimate issue.  The recent release that Mr. Gricar did computer searches produced some questions, online at least, that the release was politically motivated.  I frankly don’t care if it was; I’m happy new information was released.  Some people would see any developments as being politically motivated.  A grand jury would help insulate the investigation and the incumbent district attorney, who is running for reelection, from those charges.

            Grand juries do not merely serve as police fact checking device.  The can look at other things, and they can do that without releasing truly private information to the public.  There are certain things that are legitimately private, for example, Mr. Gricar’s financial arrangements or his cell records.  Would any reader really there personal phone numbers or financial data published?  A grand jury is a way to inspect these documents privately, while still releasing pertinent information.

            Here are several links to what grand jury presentments look like:

http://www.attorneygeneral.gov/uploadedFiles/Press/Harrisburg-Bonus-GJ-Presentment.pdf

http://www.attorneygeneral.gov/uploadedFiles/Press/Sollman%20Grand%20Jury%20Report%201.pdf

Look at the finding of facts section; this is the detail that goes into an investigation by a grand jury.   This could be the result of grand jury of twenty three citizens looking at information and asking questions, perhaps the right question.

            In short, a grand jury is an effective tool for getting at the truth. There is no presumption, in calling a grand jury, that a crime has been committed.  There is only the presumption that a crime could have been committed; based on what has been released, Mr. Gricar's disappearance could have been criminal.  Note that in one of the links, the presentment concluded that there was no criminal activity involved.

The power to call a grand jury is a power independently possessed by the local district attorney, though the State Attorney General also has that independent power.  The both can make an “application,” presumably with a judge, to empanel one, but neither needs the approval of the other to conduct one.  The local district attorney would not need permission from the state attorney general to call one, nor would the state attorney general have to get the permission of the local district attorney.

Current Centre County District Attorney Michael T. Madeira was asked about calling a grand jury on July 3, 2008.   His response was quoted in Mr. Bosak’s blog, where he said, "Grand juries are designed to get testimony from people who are not willing to cooperate.  That is not the case here."  That response raises two questions.

First, how does Mr. Madeira know that (unless he has a good idea what happened to Mr. Gricar)?  If Mr. Gricar disappearance was due to foul play, does he expect the perpetrator to show up at his office and admit to it?  If walkaway, does he really think that a helper wouldn’t avoid answering police questions, at least not volunteering information that they helped Mr. Gricar walk away?

I pointed out, in this entry, Ray Gricar, Curriculum Vita , that many of people involved with Mr. Gricar had very long term contact with him.  There are possibly dozens of people that might, out of loyalty, and based on a long established relationship, might have served as a helper and not volunteered information.  (I estimate about 25 individuals overall, though at least one has been checked.)

Second, is his comment accurate?  At the time he made this statement, it was reported that this friend’s time line was checked.  That statement was incorrect.  Was it just an opportunity missed by the police, or did she decline to cooperate?  

Mr. Madeira has had the power to go before a judge and ask for a grand jury since January 2006.   I can understand if he wished to the Pennsylvania State Police Criminal Investigation Assessment review of the case to conclude first, but it concluded in the late November of 2006. http://tiny.cc/Probe659   Between the report of that review in November of 2006 and the sending of the hard drive to Kroll, Inc., in June of 2008, there have been no reports of any activities by the District Attorney’s Office in investigating the Gricar disappearance. 

Mr. Madeira, just after taking office in January of 2006, stated that "no stone has been left unturned” in that the police investigation.  The police cannot call a grand jury; but Mr. Madeira can.  Mr. Madeira had, and has, a valuable tool to investigate that case, and he has declined to use it.  This failure to do so can be laid directly at the office door of Mr. Madeira.  It is an unturned stone that Mr. Madeira could easily lift.

Notes:

1A good summary of how grand juries work in Pennsylvania can be found here:

http://www.attorneygeneral.gov/crime.aspx?id=207

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