Crime

Penn State professor may have suffered for up to two days at bottom of quarry

George Ishler Jr. walks toward the courthouse Wednesday Aug 31, 2016 in Bellefonte, PA.
George Ishler Jr. walks toward the courthouse Wednesday Aug 31, 2016 in Bellefonte, PA. psheehan@centredaily.com

Penn State professor Ronald Bettig may have lain at the bottom of a quarry for up to two days before death, according to courtroom testimony Wednesday.

A preliminary hearing was held at the Centre County Courthouse for George Ishler Jr., 39, of Pennsylvania Furnace, who is accused of pushing Bettig to his death on Aug. 12. Ishler has been charged with first- and third-degree murder, conspiracy to commit murder, aggravated assault and tampering with evidence.

Ishler also faces an additional charge of unsworn falsification to authorities, according to court documents. He waived a hearing on this charge.

Danelle Geier, 32, of Lemont, has also been charged for her alleged role in Bettig’s death. She waived her right to a preliminary hearing Wednesday morning.

The court heard testimony by state police investigator Brian Wakefield, who walked the court through the chain of events.

According to Wakefield’s testimony, Bettig had been romantically involved with Geier and the two had been living together in Bettig’s Lemont home with her infant son. Ishler was reported to be a friend of Bettig’s and was Geier’s uncle, but there had been an “admission of sexual involvement” between Ishler and Geier discovered during Geier’s interview with the police.

Wakefield testified that Ishler had stated to the police he had handwritten a will for Bettig, which he and Bettig had both allegedly signed. The weekend prior to Bettig’s death, the three had planned a trip to Rehoboth Beach.

According to Wakefield’s testimony, Ishler had admitted the purpose of the trip to the beach was to drown Bettig for financial gain.

At the beach, Wakefield said, Ishler had initially “dunked” Bettig with the intention of drowning him, but found that “he couldn’t go through with it.” A second plan was then allegedly made to push Bettig off the wall at the Hanson Quarry upon their return.

When they returned from the beach on Aug. 12, he said, the four — Bettig, Ishler, Geier and her child — had driven straight to the quarry, where Ishler told police he had pushed Bettig off, before returning to the Lemont home. Ishler then told the police he and Geier took things from the home and staged the vehicle, Wakefield said.

The two coordinated scripted text messages suggesting reporting Bettig missing on Aug. 15, Wakefield said, at which time Ishler made a report to the State College police.

Reading from a report by Centre County Coroner Scott Sayers, Wakefield indicated that the coroner had listed the manner of death as a homicide. Pathologist Harry Kamerow had noted the cause of death was “blunt force trauma due to a fall,” and was still waiting on microscopic tissue analysis and toxicology reports.

It was also Kamerow’s notes that indicated Bettig had died one to two days after the fall, but it is unknown if the professor was conscious during that time.

According to Ishler’s statements, Wakefield said, Geier had been the one to talk him into the deed. Ishler had allegedly made brief statements to troopers while riding to prison after his arraignment.

Ishler was bound over on all charges. The case now moves toward trial.

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