Crime

'I can still hear the crunch today.' George Ishler takes the stand

George Ishler Jr. arrives at the Centre County Courthouse for another day of the murder trial of Ronald Bettig on Friday, April 20, 2018.
George Ishler Jr. arrives at the Centre County Courthouse for another day of the murder trial of Ronald Bettig on Friday, April 20, 2018. adrey@centredaily.com

Danelle Geier, accused of murdering 56-year-old Penn State professor Ronald Bettig in August 2016, answered questions from George Ishler Jr.'s attorney for about 30 minutes, and the questions focused on her motives and truthfulness throughout the trial.

"You are a lying, manipulative woman," were the first words said by Karen Muir to start the fifth day of the trial on Friday. "You used Dr. Bettig to get his money, his credit cards and live in his basement rent-free."

On Thursday, Geier testified she had sexual intercourse with a man for money so she could afford diapers for her child. The two had intercourse after Bettig's fall, but before he died, as forensic pathologist Harry Kamerow testified Bettig could have lain at the quarry for two days before dying due to dehydration.

"You wanted the jury to feel bad for you because you had to have sex for your baby, didn't you?" Muir asked.

"Yes, I did," Geier testified.

Muir also inquired about Geier's allegation that Ishler raped her after Bettig's fall.

Geier previously testified she was raped by her brother, among others, before Bettig's death. As a result of Muir's questioning, it was revealed that one of the troopers who questioned her in regard to Bettig's murder was the same trooper who charged her brother with rape.

"You're the one who called the rape report about your brother. You have no fear about making reports when you're harmed, do you?" Muir asked.

She continued and said it has been 20 months since the alleged rape, but Geier has yet to file a police report.

"I didn't want to deal with it. You don't always have to make a police report if something happens," Geier testified.

At jury selection, Muir asked potential jurors if they would hold it against Ishler if he chose not to testify. Despite the question, Ishler elected to testify.

Geier previously testified Ishler admitted to killing his mother with fentanyl and that he "got away with it."

Muir directly asked Ishler if he murdered his mother and he said, "No."

He said his mother, who lived in Rehoboth Beach, died in May 2012 because she smoked fentanyl out of a pipe. Ishler also said his father died when he was 9 years old.

Ishler said he met the professor while he was working at Choice Cigarette Discount Outlet in State College. While working as a cashier, Ishler said he witnessed a drug deal involving Bettig in the parking lot. Bettig allegedly walked in the store, which is when Ishler joked Bettig needed to be more discreet and secure.

He said his friendship with Bettig started because, "We're both government-hating conspiracy theorists."

Ishler is accused of murdering Bettig for financial gain. Ishler was listed as the executor of Bettig's crudely written will and the prosecution said he was given the power to determine whether or not Bettig's possessions should go to his children if they demonstrated they cared about him after he died.

Ishler testified he thought his job as executor of the will was to sprinkle the professor's cremated remains over marijuana plants.

The prosecution also cited Ishler's Internet searches regarding Disney stock as evidence he was financially motivated.

Ishler disagreed and said he was searching for the professor, who did not have a cell phone because he referred to them as weapons of mass destruction. The professor did have a computer in his residence, but Ishler said it was "covered in an inch of dust."

Muir asked Ishler what happened at the top of the quarry.

He said Bettig was "jumbling and rambling." Bettig allegedly told Ishler he missed his wife and Geier didn't love him anymore.

Ishler testified Bettig was arguing with him with his back facing the quarry. During the argument, Ishler allegedly told Bettig he has felonies on his record and police would believe he pushed the professor if he jumped.

"He turned sideways and jumped," Ishler testified. "He knew what he was doing."

The 41-year-old Pennsylvania Furnace native was within a few feet of Bettig, but he never touched, pushed or shoved Bettig, according to his testimony.

Muir then asked what his reaction was after Bettig's fall.

"I can still hear the crunch today. It sounded like he bounced. I thought he was dead and I freaked out," Ishler testified.

Muir then asked why he didn't call the police to report the incident.

"I should've, but I didn't want anything to do with a dead body and police," Ishler testified.

Muir also asked why he allegedly lied to police in a recorded interview played in court where he stated "I pushed him off the cliff."

"That was what they wanted me to say. That was me being a smartass," Ishler testified.

Centre County District Attorney Sean McGraw revisited Ishler's statement during his cross-examination.

Ishler again testified the statement was sarcastic because he was fed up with police and they did not believe the truthful story he originally told him, so he told them what they wanted to hear.

"That's the type of sarcasm that gets you convicted of first-degree murder," McGraw said.

The prosecution brought up Ishler's past association with the police, namely that he had been a confidential informant for controlled drug buys. McGraw asked why the police would go to "great lengths" to get a false confession from him.

"That's what they do sometimes. Dead body, cops — that's a bad situation," Ishler testified.

The first time Ishler used a word or phrase to describe the incident, he called it a tragedy.

"His suicide was a tragedy," Ishler said in the same tone of voice as the rest of his testimony.

McGraw took umbrage with that statement.

"Do you think what you just said convinced anyone? There was no emotion when you said it because you didn't believe it," McGraw said.

"It's been two years. I've cried enough. Dealing with this whole thing that snowballed out of control is terrible," Ishler responded.

McGraw ended his cross-examination saying, "You couldn't keep all the lies straight and they (police) eventually boxed you into a corner, so you confessed."

The prosecution and both defenses rested Friday. The trial is scheduled to continue Monday.

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