Special Reports

The Dueling Press Conferences

            One year ago, on July First and Third of 2008, we saw the now famous “dueling press conferences.”  It was one of the turning points in the investigation of the disappearance of former Centre County District Attorney Ray Gricar.  It was been described as pre-Independence Day fireworks and as a verbal restaging of the Battle of Gettysburg, complete with a Pickett’s, now Madeira’s, Charge.  These conferences had an effect on the investigation and a political effect, which is still ongoing.  I am going to examine what caused these events and their effects.

            First, in the order of battle we have two friends and colleagues of Mr. Gricar, former Clinton County District Attorney Theodore “Ted” McKnight and sitting Montour County District Attorney Robert W. “Bob” Buehner, Jr.   Both had calling, in early 2006, for the case to be turned over to the State Attorney General’s Office.  Mr. Buehner in particular, had exchanged several harsh comments over the years, covered in the local media, with the State Attorney General’s Office, in regard to that office not taking the Gricar case.  I recall, however, no such criticism of Centre County District Attorney Michael T. “Mike” Madeira.  Mr. Madeira, however, had been a former Assistant Attorney General, serving under Mr. Corbett.

            On June Third, 2008, Mr. Buehner sent a letter to Mr. Madeira and Union County District Attorney D. Peter “Pete” Johnson; Union County includes Lewisburg, the county where the Mini Cooper found.  (Note to self: If I ever run for something again, insert “J. J.” in my name.)  What was not in the letter is very important.  Mr. Buehner never suggested that either one call in the Attorney General’s Office in that letter; he never criticized either man or the investigation.  He criticized neither the Bellefonte Police Department nor the police in general (and, as far as I know, never has).  It could not be characterized as a hostile letter.  Mr. Buehner said, in part, “I simply want to know what happened to my friend and colleague Ray Gricar.” 

            What Mr. Buehner did was make three suggestions about what could be done.  First, he suggested Kroll Ontrack, a data recovery firm, be used to try and remove data from the hard drive.  Second, he suggested that all female motel registrations within a 30 mile radius of Lewisburg on 4/15-16/05 be check; these would then be checked against PennDot records to see if any matched the “Lewisburg Mystery Woman.”  On that point, Mr. Buehner noted how this would require more personnel.  Third, he revealed the existence of a witness that saw Mr. Gricar on Route 15, who contacted Mr. McKnight.  This had not been reported, and has become known informally as “McKnight’s Witness.”

            Mr. Buehner concluded the letter of June 3, 2008 asking, “Would you kindly advise me on the matters raised herein?”  After hearing nothing for 27 days, Mr. Buehner and Mr. McKnight called the press conference in Lewisburg.

            Mr. Madeira’s response was interesting.   He said, "Anybody with any professional credence whatsoever realizes that we don't report to one another. I don't have any obligations to report to someone else what my investigation is doing."  http://www.collegian.psu.edu/archive/2008/07/03/letter_irks_county_da.aspx  Mr. Buehner never asked him to “report” about the investigation, only to respond about those three points raised in the letter.  In the case of McKnight’s Witness, the police did investigate, but never disclosed the fact.  Mr. Madeira also claimed that he had heard of Kroll Ontrack, the data recovery company, and was considering it.  Nothing was said on the third point.  Keep in mind that had Mr. Madeira called, written or e-mailed his colleague, this never would have happened.

            Those people opposed to Mr. Buehner tried a more organized counter attack, bringing in members of the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association (PDAA); Mr. Madeira was and is on the executive board of that group. http://tiny.cc/nhEBo   Most of the participants, other than Mr. Johnson, were also on that board.  Much like Pickett’s Charge, it was not incredibly successful at least in Centre County.  The participants misidentified which State Police Troop was investigating the case; members claiming to have been personal friends of Mr. Gricar, mispronounced his name as Gr-EYE-car instead of GREE-cer.  One person in the audience asked some questions that seemed to unnerve one of participants, who ask if she was an attorney.  She said yes, a former assistant district attorney (actually a first assistant district attorney), who knew and worked with Mr. Gricar.  Her name was Stacy Parks Miller.  (I suggest that members of the PDAA become familiar with her, as she might be the next District Attorney of Centre County.)

            In short, for Mr. Madeira, this was a political fiasco.  It also marked the start of his political problems, but not the end.  Later in summer of 2008, the District Attorney’s Office was found to have suppressed evidence in the Rogers murder trial, resulting in the conviction being thrown out.  In December and January, the “Sexting Scandal” came to light, involving a long term Assistant District Attorney.  Just before the primary, Mr. Madeira lost the first case he personally tried.  Then there was the primary itself, where more that one third of the Republicans said, in effect, “If it’s a choice between you, Madeira and no one, we will chose no one.”  It has not been a good year politically or professionally for Mr. Madeira.  This past year has been to Mr. Madeira what Sherman’s March to the Sea was to the Confederacy.  You might even say that 7/1/08 to 6/30/09 has been Mr. Madeira’s Annus Horribilis (“Horrible Year”). 

            Now, I would call some of Mr. Buehner’s comments at the press conference undiplomatic, and frankly, some of his suggestions are difficult to justify (and if he ever meets me, he’ll probably run a make on me to see if he have me picked up on an outstanding warrant).  His initial letter was diplomatic and deserved a real response from Mr. Madeira.  It might not have prevented the Annus Horribilis , but it would have pushed the start date back a fortnight or so. 

            Mr. Buehner, however, deserves credit for pursuing this course of action, in terms of the investigation.  Much of the public disclosure in the Gricar case was at least related to this conference.  In this, Mr. Buehner deserves of our thanks.  He also, obviously, helped generate public awareness of the case, and kept Ray Gricar’s name in the public eye.  It is very troubling however that we, the public, must rely on the Montour County District Attorney and not on the Centre County District Attorney for generating new disclosures and keeping Ray Gricar’s name in the public eye.