Just over four years ago, I wrote the Centre County District Attorney’s election. I’m not a registered voter in Centre County, so I cannot cast a vote; I could not cast a vote four years ago either. I did say who I would vote for if I had had a vote in Centre County; I would have voted for the Democratic nominee. I am a Republican and I usually vote for the Republican nominee. Today, I am happy to return to my roots and say that, if I had a vote, it would be for the Republican nominee. Well, it actually wouldn’t make too much of a difference. The same person who was the Democratic nominee in 2009 is the Republican nominee in 2013. She is also the Democratic nominee in 2013 as well.
The incumbent District Attorney, Stacy Parks Miller, is not facing any opposition on the ballot. She ran unopposed for the Democratic nomination and won the Republican nomination on write-in votes. It is next to impossible for her to lose. Her tenure in office has not produced scandals, great or small, or gaffs, like her predecessor (though there is still plenty of time). There isn’t a reason to vote against her.
In terms of political strength, this is stunning. Ms. Parks Miller’s dual nomination is a good an indication that no one thinks that they have a chance of defeating her. Let’s face it, in the 2009 election cycle, she dominated her opponents. It is even more than that. Since 1981, there was only one time when a candidate never faced a primary or general election challenge; that was in 1997. Even with that, no candidate, at least since 1981, has ever gotten both party nominations. That demonstrates electoral strength of an incumbent District Attorney that has not existed for more than three decades, if not longer.
In looking at the case that generally write about, the disappearance of the last person to run for re-election for District Attorney unopposed (in 1997), Ray Gricar, there has been improvement, but no solution. That has left the record mixed in that regard. There are good points, and some not so good points. Let’s look at these.
First, the good points:
1. I won’t say that Ms. Parks Miller kept her campaign promise to do more with the Gricar case, because she didn’t make any promises. The only thing she offered to do, after the election, is to “to tear the file apart.”1 Well, she did that.
2. Ms. Parks Miller did more. About four months after taking office, she established the “review panel,” which has including additional agencies. Looking at the recent “ex-Hells Angel” flap, it seems to be well coordinated. Over the years there have been more reports of this panel being active.
3. Over the last three and a half years, in conjunction with the Bellefonte Police, more information has been released. In some cases, that has included things like ruling out sightings of Mr. Gricar, specifically the 4/18/05 Wilkes Barre sighting.2 There have also been additional witnesses, including one that spotted him on the way to Lewisburg on 4/15/05. This has included media. Not since Pete Bosak’s “Missed Leads” have we had so much information, and, unlike that time, the newer information can from law enforcement.
4. We no longer have an investigation by press release situation. In the previous administration, we had numerous situations where the then District Attorney reacted to criticism and news stories. The Buehner/McKnight press conference resulted in Kroll being consulted and possibly, in the midst of an election year, in the computer searches being released.3 “Missed Leads” probably resulted in the Pennsylvania State Police Criminal Investigation Analysis unit being deployed.4 Ms. Parks Miller has not been waiting for something to happen in order to release information.
There are some points that are not so good.
1. There seems to be an unexplained view that homicide is not a very likely. Ms. Parks Miller, 3 ½ years ago actually said, “The only thing I will say is that I believe homicide is the least likely, but we rule out nothing.”5 While she backed off that comment a bit,6 there was an echo of it from lead investigator Bellefonte Police Detective Matt Rickard, about 18 months ago, who said, when asked about the possibility it was a revenge killing or a crime of passion, said, “Throw in hard-drive searches and it doesn’t kill the theories, but it makes them virtually impossible.”7 Why is that? Especially since Mr. Gricar was seen by multiple witnesses in Lewisburg with an unknown woman, why would that be “virtually impossible?”
I am the first person to say that foul play is not the most likely explanation, but I wouldn’t call it the least likely explanation either. What evidence, if any, would greatly lower that possibility?
2. Why hasn’t more information been released? Much of the evidence being held back is more than 8 ½ years old. It is entirely possible, if not probable, that releasing it might lead to new leads and even a solution. Here are some example of what can be released:
A. Mr. Gricar’s cell phone records from the week he disappeared. They could show who he was talking with and where he was. For example, Mr. Gricar’s daughter, on the West Coast at the time, phoned him on 4/14/05. Where was he when he got the call? In his office? At Lake Raystown? Traveling there? Likewise, at about 11:12 AM on 4/15/05, where was he when he called his girlfriend, Patty Fornicola. Was he east of, west of, or in Centre Hall?
B. A witness list of 4/14-4/16/05. What did the witnesses see, where did they see it, and when did they see it?
C. What about the Southfield Sighting of 5/27/05. Has someone else been identified as being the person the witness thought was Mr. Gricar? There were vague indications of other witnesses; how solid were those? Where was the restaurant he was spotted?
In all cases, the personal information can be redacted. The witnesses can be identified as “Witness A.” Certainly the actual phone numbers of callers to Mr. Gricar’s cell phone need not be released. There is no cost to this; the police have already gathered this information.
3. One of my personal favorites is what searched did the police do across the bridge in Lewisburg? Did they ever go through the wetlands area, and the various wooded areas, 1-2 miles beyond the bridge? Did they use a cadaver dog? That would be a good place to commit suicide, or to hide a murder victim’s body.
I’m not a one issue voter, but even if I where, and I was voting just on the issue of the conduct of the investigation of the disappearance of Ray Gricar, I would vote for Stacy Parks Miller. I wouldn’t be writing in Count Dracula, or a cartoon rodent copyrighted by the Disney Corporation, as a few people did in the primary; I wouldn’t abstain for that office either.8 She has done more, and she has done more than she promised to do; Ms. Parks Miller deserves credit for that. There is, however, more that she could do, and after more than 8 ½ years, there is more that should be done.
I hope that all of you who can legally vote in this election will do so on Tuesday.
8 An analysis of Mr. Parks Miller’s primary victory is here: http://www.centredaily.com/2013/07/01/3672960/politics-and-the-gricar-case-the.html
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