Both defense attorneys for a pair accused of murdering a 56-year-old Penn State professor in August 2016 said their clients had absolutely no motive to kill the professor.
Ronald Bettig, of Lemont, was reported missing by George Ishler Jr., 41, of Pennsylvania Furnace, on Aug. 16, 2016. His body was found at the bottom of Blackhawk Quarry after falling about 75 feet on Aug. 19, 2016.
Frank Gaus Jr., a collision analysis and reconstruction expert for Pennsylvania state police, testified that it would have taken Bettig about two seconds to fall and he estimated Bettig would have been falling at about 47 mph. He also testified that Bettig would have landed feet first because of the injuries that he sustained.
Gaus testified that, in order for Bettig to land on his feet, Bettig's back would have to be facing the quarry or he would have had to been hanging off the ledge of the cliff before he fell.
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If Bettig was facing the quarry, Gaus testified that he would have had to turn around in mid-air, which he said would have made it unlikely — if not impossible — for Bettig to land on his feet.
"He probably wouldn't land straight down on his legs if that were the case," Gaus testified.
Ishler and Danelle Geier, 34, of Lemont, believing that Bettig included them in a recently signed last will, allegedly began to plot his death on Aug. 12, 2016.
In his opening statement on Monday, Centre County District Attorney Bernie Cantorna said the crudely crafted will said Geier would receive Bettig's house and Ishler would determine who received the remainder of his possessions not specifically listed in the will. The signing of the will in June 2016 represented a "pivotal" moment in Bettig's life, according to Cantorna.
When painting a picture of the final five years of Bettig's life, Cantorna also mentioned the death of Bettig's wife in 2011. He said her death led Bettig into a "deep, dark depression."
Cantorna, in an effort to demonstrate how severe Bettig's depression was, cited a neighbor's interaction with Bettig in 2015. The neighbor said she and Bettig were having a conversation before he passed out because he hadn't eaten in three days.
"He looked like a concentration camp victim. He looked so sick and so pale," the woman testified.
Geier, who was living with Bettig and her infant son at the time of Bettig's death, allegedly agreed to Ishler drowning Bettig in the ocean during a trip to Rehoboth Beach in Delaware. Police said Geier texted Ishler, "So ready I am pissed off," on the way to the beach, which was allegedly in reference to killing Bettig.
Deborah Lux, defense attorney for Geier, disagreed.
She said Geier sent the text because Ishler spent several hours attempting to purchase drugs and was hoping to return to Centre County.
When that did not happen, the duo allegedly convinced Bettig to go with them to the quarry so they could harvest marijuana. Ishler allegedly told Geier the plants were so close to the edge of the quarry that the professor might fall and, if he didn't on his own, Ishler would "help" him.
"Dr. Bettig jumped to his death. George Ishler had absolutely no reason to kill his friend," Karen Muir, defense attorney for Ishler, said in her opening statement. She said the incident was "shocking and traumatic" for Ishler to watch.
Lux again disagreed with police and Muir.
"George Ishler is a cold-blooded killer and rapist," Lux said in her opening statement.
Ishler told Geier he pushed Bettig off the quarry cliff, according to Lux. He allegedly threatened to kill and rape Geier if she told anyone what happened. Lux also stressed that Ishler acted independently until he coerced her to drive Bettig's vehicle to the quarry to make his death appear accidental.
"She cared deeply for him (Bettig)," Lux said. "Absolutely no motivation for her to kill the professor."
State police investigator Brian Wakefield previously testified on Aug. 31, 2016, and said Ishler told police he pushed Bettig off the quarry cliff and took things from Bettig's home to stage his vehicle. Wakefield also read a report from Centre County coroner Scott Sayers, which ruled Bettig's manner of death as a homicide. Forensic pathologist Harry Kamerow noted the cause of Bettig's death was blunt force trauma due to a fall.
Muir filed a motion in December 2016 to suppress his confession to police. The motion, which was eventually denied, said Ishler's confession was not voluntary and was made under duress, coercion or unfulfilled promises by law enforcement.
The jury, including alternate jurors, is composed of 15 men and two women.
The trial was rescheduled for April because jurors were expected to visit the quarry where Bettig's body was recovered on the second day of the trial. The expectation was that April weather would be more favorable for the visit, but it was postponed due to inclement weather.
Testimony is scheduled to begin at 8:30 a.m. Tuesday.