The murder trial for the two individuals accused of killing Penn State professor Ronald Bettig has been postponed to an undetermined date.
Bettig, of Lemont, was discovered at the bottom of a Potter Township quarry, police said, where he may have lain up to two days before his death. George Ishler, 40, and Danelle Geier, 33, were charged with murder and conspiracy in connection with Bettig’s death.
Jury selection was slated to begin Thursday with opening arguments Friday, however, a request for a mental health evaluation for Ishler has put everything on hold for now.
A motion for a mental health evaluation and/or competency to stand trial was filed by Ishler’s attorney, Karen Muir, on Sept. 25, according to court documents. In the motion, Muir stated that she is concerned for Ishler’s mental stability, health and welfare “based on a recent conversation” and sought to have him evaluated prior to the trial.
She also sought funds for this evaluation, saying Ishler doesn’t have the money to pay for it due to his incarceration.
This motion was denied by Centre County Judge Thomas Kistler on Sept. 28, court documents said. In his order, Kistler said the denial was due to the lack of a prima facie — first impression showing — that there is a need for a competency examination.
In a motion for reconsideration filed by Muir the next day, she again cited her concern for Ishler’s mental stability and is still seeking an evaluation prior to trial. According to Pennsylvania statute on mental health, she wrote, the court may order an incompetency exam “without a hearing unless the examination is objected to by the person charged ... or his counsel.”
Because neither she nor Ishler are objecting to the exam, she said, no prima facie hearing is required.
Muir stated that she had conversations with her client in which she “is gravely concerned with whether Ishler is suffering from delusions, which he believes, which would severely hamper his ability to assist counsel at trial.”
She said Ishler is taking Paxil — commonly used to treat anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder — and is sleeping 12-14 hours a day with “nightmares and bad thoughts.”
District Attorney Stacy Parks Miller responded to Muir’s motion Monday, saying the Pennsylvania statute on mental health cited by Muir discusses the procedure when a mental health hearing is required but does not state that the exam shall be ordered on request of the defendant.
“The defendant still must put forth something that satisfies the court that the request is based on reasonable factors and is not simply a delay tactic,” Parks Miller wrote.
A second order by Kistler on Tuesday stated “at this time (the court) does not have enough information to grant or deny the request.”
At a hearing Wednesday, Kistler granted Ishler an allotment of $2,000 for an evaluation, according to the District Attorney’s Office.
At this point, the court administration office said, the trial has been postponed, possibly to the December term, and a new trial date has not yet been set.