[This is the seventh part of a series on the investigation into the disappearance of former Centre County District Attorney Ray Gricar.]
Put yourself in this position. You leave for a brief trip, and get out of town on the weekend. When you go into work on Monday, you are now the acting District Attorney of Centre County. That alone should be a shock to you, but there is more. Your boss is missing, and you may have some oversight role in the investigation of your missing boss, but there is still more. Your boss could show up any moment; if he does, you won’t the acting District Attorney. Even if he doesn’t show up, you will not be the District Attorney, acting or otherwise, in eight and half months. Any one of four people could end up being your new boss and you have no idea which one of them will be.
This was the situation facing Mark Smith, the First Assistant District Attorney at the time Mr. Gricar disappeared. As holder of that position, Mr. Smith became the acting District Attorney during the remainder of Mr. Gricar’s term, those eight and a half months. Politically and administratively, it was hard position. In terms of the investigation, it was a much harder position.
Let’s look at the investigative aspect first. As a rule, at least under Mr. Gricar, the District Attorney got involved in the investigation after the police. This can be seen in a case that Mr. Gricar was strongly criticized for by the victim’s family, the killing of Kitu Sampson. The police investigated and didn’t charge, calling the death justifiable. It was at that point, after the police reached their conclusion. that Mr. Gricar began to pursue the case.1 This looks like the practice followed by Mr. Gricar.
As can be seen from this series, until very late in 2005, the police were actively investigating the disappearance. The analysis of the hard drive, was not completed until the late November or early December. There was less than a month, during a hectic time of the year, when Mr. Smith was actually the acting District Attorney and no known new evidence was coming out.
There was also the administrative and political aspect. Mr. Smith, until November, had no idea who was going to be the District Attorney in January 2006; the election had not happened. Neither candidate actually said anything about what they would do regarding the Gricar case; neither candidate had detailed knowledge of the investigation. Anything Mr. Smith might have done may run counter to what the new District Attorney would want to do.
Mr. Smith was, however, supportive of the police; he made suggestions. One was the meeting in May of local district attorneys.2
The 2005 period of the investigation marked a period when police were generally releasing information and where the investigation was being actively pursued by the police. The District Attorney’s Office was there to suggest things, but the police were the ones issuing statement and doing the groundwork. It was not a cold case. Come January, 2006 the curtain on Act Two of the Gricar case would be raised.
[Part 8, Mr. Madeira Takes Charge, is next]