Last week, the legal designation of the former Centre County District Attorney Ray Gricar changed. It changed from a presumption of Mr. Gricar being alive to the presumption of Mr. Gricar being dead. Mr. Gricar was declared legally dead.1 As pointed out in a prior blog, legality might differ from reality.
If you are follower of this blog, you have an idea of the process, even before Mr. Gricar’s daughter, Lara, began the process. Basically, Ms. Gricar, through her attorney, filed a petition with the Centre Court which claimed three things:
1. Neither she nor Mr. Gricar’s girlfriend, Patty Fornicola, has heard from him since 4/15/05. Ms. Gricar and Ms. Fornicola, established this by direct testimony (and I have no reason to doubt either of them). The PPG reported that Ms. Gricar testified by telephone.2
2. There was a lot of media coverage of Mr. Gricar’s disappearance, both at the time he disappeared and continuing. The petition cited numerous sources, including this blog, described, as a “running commentary on the investigation.” It was an extensive list, but not all inclusive.3
Never miss a local story.
3. That the police conducted a “diligent inquiry,” in the words of statute. This was established by the testimony of the lead investigator in the case, Matt Rickard, of the Bellefonte Police Department. He indicated that the investigation was continuing. The only thing that he really established was the unlikelihood that Mr. Gricar would be the Witness Security Program.1
The petition was granted and Mr. Gricar status changed from living to dead. What effect does this change in status have?
Mr. Gricar’s estate can be probated. According to Centre County Commissioner Steve Dersham, Mr. Gricar’s untouched pension will be paid into the estate.4 The money can be transferred to his heirs, presumably his daughter. The estate can file for Mr. Gricar’s life insurance. Tony Gricar, the family spokesman, stated that the family viewed this as “an administrative declaration.” He further said, “"We don't look at it and say, 'We have to have a funeral,' or, 'We have this kind of closure.' There's still just not the answer of what happened that day. This doesn't show anything other than that in the court's eyes, he's deceased."2
This was an “administrative declaration,” as opposed to a factual determination that really dead. The family attorney, Amos Goodall, noted that if Mr. Gricar were to re-appear, the money from the estate would have to be returned.1 This changes the financial situation of Mr. Gricar’s heirs, but not the case.
The investigation, even for a live Mr. Gricar, continues. Last week, the story of a John Doe, now identified as Phillip T. Beavers, that refused to identify himself to police in Provo, Utah, hit the news. He had a very strong facial resemblance to Mr. Gricar. It was the Centre County District Attorney, Stacy Parks Miller, that first released the story to the press that it was not Mr. Gricar.5 Detective Rickard, while doubting it was Mr. Gricar, sent for his fingerprints.6 The possibility that Mr. Gricar is alive and out there someplace is still being considered.
I look at this process of declaring Mr. Gricar dead this way. Mr. Gricar may be dead today, both legally and in reality. He might have been murdered or committed suicide sometime on or after 4/15/05 and before 4/22/05. He might have decided to “get away” for a few weeks and then died in an accident, or suicide, sometime after that. He might have decided to start a new like someplace else, and since then, has passed away.
If you have followed this blog, you have heard about the case of the Hinckley Township, Ohio police chief, Mel Wiley. He vanished, and the police discovered substantial evidence that he walked away from his life in 1985; that was the finding of the investigation. He was declared legally dead seven years later.7 Mr. Gricar had actually discussed this case with a colleague, years after Chief Wiley disappeared.8
Mr. Gricar, who was an exceptionally good attorney, would have to realize that, if he vanished voluntarily, he would, eventually, be declared dead. If he can get Internet access, even once a week, he would have known the process of being declared dead had started, and could have stopped the process.
So, if reality coincides with legality, and Mr. Gricar is dead, the heirs he wished to inherit will inherit. If Mr. Gricar is alive, by not coming forward, he has wanted his heirs to get his money. Either way, by declaring Mr. Gricar dead, his wishes are being respected. I can live with that.
4 Progress , 7/27/11, http://www.theprogressnews.com/default.asp?read=27645
5 PPG, 7/26/11, http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/11207/1163043-100.stm
6 Morning Call 7/26/11,
Centre Daily Times Ray Gricar Section: http://www.centredaily.com/138/
Link to the Main Index for Sporadic Comments on Ray Gricar: http://www.centredaily.com/2011/03/21/2597340/main-index-32011.html
E-mail J. J. in Phila at email@example.com