[This is the thirteenth part of a series on the investigation into the disappearance of former Centre County District Attorney Ray Gricar.]
In the summer of 2008, District Attorney Michael T. Madeira found himself in a very unusual position for a prosecutor. He faced the rather stunning situation of finding himself as a defendant, if not in a court of law, in the court of public opinion.
The prosecution were however actual prosecutors, Mr. McKnight, the former District Attorney of Clinton County and Mr. Buehner, the current District Attorney of Montour County. Both men are Republicans, like Mr. Madeira; Mr. Buehner had already announced that he wasn’t planning to seek re-election, while Mr. McKnight had lost the last election, in 2007. There was no “political” reason for either to do what they did. Both were friends of Mr. Gricar and both had been involved earlier, in 2005, in that meeting of regional meeting of district attorneys to look at the case.
It began with a letter from Mr. Buehner to Mr. Madeira, and Union County District Attorney D. Peter Johnson, sent on 6/3/081. Mr. Buehner suggested three different things in this letter. First, he suggested that Kroll Ontrack, Inc., a data recovery company with a phenomenal track record, look at the data. Second, he suggested that local motels, for a radius of 30 miles around Lewisburg, be checked for female registrant; photos would then be taken from driver’s license databases of the registrant, and shown to the witness that saw the “Mystery Woman.” Third, he asked about checking “McKnight’s witness,” a witness from Lock Haven who saw Mr. Gricar while driving to Harrisburg. A description of the account can be found here: The Lewisburg Witnesses, April 15, 2005 Mr. Buehner closed his letter with, “Would you kindly advise me on the matters raised herein?”
Mr. Madeira’s response was nonexistent. He never responded in writing by letter, sent an e-mail or telephoned. According to Mr. Madeira, responding almost a month later in the press,2 McKnight’s witness, had been checked, but he didn’t bother to tell Mr. Buehner. While the police did check motels for Mr. Gricar, they have never indicated if they also tried Mr. Buehner’s method of looking for the “mystery woman.” They had not tried Kroll. Mr. Madeira never said anything; for 27 days, he left Mr. Buehner hanging.
With Independence Day approaching, Mr. Buehner set off some rhetorical fireworks. He called a press conference, in the park across from the Packwood House, and along the banks of the Susquehanna River, one of the spots in Lewisburg where Mr. Gricar was spotted. According to Mr. Buehner, it was only the specter of the press conference, after it was announced the day before, that prompted Mr. Madeira to attempt to call Mr. Buehner. 3
On July first, the first salvo of rhetorical fireworks went off on the banks of the Susquehanna. Mr. Buehner called the investigation “shameful,” and said, “The investigation is as much as mystery as the mystery of Gricar's disappearance." Mr. McKnight said, “It especially requires an equally experienced prosecutor who understands the depth and understanding of Gricar's situation. This has not happened, because this case has not received the amount of support it needs."3 Keep in mind that these are both veteran Republican prosecutors, neither of which has any plans to seek public office again, referring to fellow Republican prosecutors. They both had been consulting with the police prior to Mr. Madeira’s election. That is remarkable strong criticism in that circumstance.
Mr. Buehner greatest criticism was not directed at Mr. Madeira, but at Pennsylvania Attorney General, Thomas Corbett. He stated, "Had Corbett spent as much time trying to find Gricar as he has to avoid it, we may not need to be here today." Both Mr. Buehner and Mr. McKnight had long advocated turning the case over to the Attorney General’s Office.
Mr. Madeira responded afterward, saying, “Anybody with any professional credence whatsoever realizes that we don't report to one another. I don't have any obligations to report to someone else what my investigation is doing."4 Of course, Mr. Madeira was never asked to “report.” Mr. Madeira was only to “kindly advise” Mr. Buehner on the points Mr. Buehner raised in the letter. Mr. Madeira had no legal obligation to respond, only an obligation of professional courtesy to respond to a colleague.
In the same article, Mr. Madeira asked, “Why are my colleagues bringing this up nearly three years later?" His “colleagues” (and they may object to me using that word) actually had been “bringing this up,” at least some of it, in 2005, months before Mr. Madeira was actually first elected. The Kroll suggestion was new, but only because a recent success, recovering data from a drive on the Space Shuttle Columbia had been published in April of 2008. I don’t know why Mr. Madeira had not checked or did not realize that these things had been discussed within the investigation in 2005, more that three years before he commented. (He said more, which I’ll mention in the next entry.)
Mr. Madeira then went on the defensive. A hastily called press conference was held in Bellefonte on July 3, 2008. Most, if not all were on the Executive Board of the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association (PDAA); Mr. Madeira also serves on the board, as does Mr. Johnson.5 With the exception of Mr. Madeira and Mr. Johnson, none were local District Attorneys who had seen the case unfold in the media. The members criticized Mr. Buehner and Gary Dobias from Carbon County, the PDAA president, said, “Ray Gricar’s case is tough,” he said, “but it has been handled right.”6
The group then took questions. They revealed that had never actually looked at the case files. Several members praise the Pennsylvania State Police for conducting the investigation, though it was the Bellefonte Police Department that conducted the investigation. One panelist said he was a friend and colleague of Mr. Gricar, and then mispronounced his name “Gr-EYE-kar” instead of GREE-kar. 6
As I noted in the blog on the anniversary on these conferences, one person in the audience asked some pointed questions that seemed to unnerve one of participants, who ask if she was an attorney. She said yes, a former assistant district attorney (actually a first assistant district attorney), who knew and worked with Mr. Gricar as a defense attorney. Her name was Stacy Parks Miller. It might be well for the members of PDAA to remember her name, as there is fair possibility she will be at their future meeting; she is currently a strong candidate against Mr. Madeira for Centre County District Attorney.
Family spokesman Tony Gricar said, “Two district attorneys stick their necks out to stick up for Ray, and Madeira wrangled up eight DAs to counter their attempts.” He was paraphrased as likening it to a political rally. 6
What it was a complete and total political fiasco, an absolute disaster for Mr. Madeira. It is interesting to note that when Mr. Buehner suggested Kroll be contacted to try to recover data from the laptop’s hard drive, the police had already discovered that Mr. Gricar had done searches about how to destroy the drive.
In keeping with the pattern, that same day, Mr. Madeira announced that he would send the drive to Kroll Ontrack. Yes, after all this fuss, he took at least part of Mr. Buehner’s advice.7 We again see the pattern repeated; when there is negative press, do something.
As we well see in future entries, much of the public disclose on the Gricar case resulted from Mr. Buehner’s letter. He deserves praise not just for his suggestions, but in putting case firmly back in the public eye. Somebody should at least buy this guy lunch to thank him for that.
Mr. Madeira’s fiasco here did illustrate the second part of the pattern; when there is negative press, do something. Coming from this, we will see the first part of the pattern, putting out information previously disclosed, or close to what was previously disclosed, in future months.
[Part 14, Mr. Madeira’s Strange Comment, Part II, is next]
1 Buehner Letter of 6/3/08, no longer online.
3 Daily Item (DI), 7/2/08 http://www.dailyitem.com/0100_news/local_story_184000012.html
4 DC, 7/3/08,
6 CDT 7/4/08, http://z10.invisionfree.com/usedtobedoe/ar/t2226.htm
7 CDT 7/3/08, http://z10.invisionfree.com/usedtobedoe/ar/t2226.htm