Today, 4/15/13, is the eighth anniversary of the disappearance of Ray Gricar, the former Centre County District Attorney. Eight years ago George W. Bush was President, with an approval rating of 48%; Edward G. Rendell was in his first term as Governor and his Lieutenant Governor, Catherine Baker Knoll was alive and not yet noted for passing out cards a military funeral, though she had been known to refer introduce him as “Edward G. Robinson.” The State Senate President Pro Tempore of the State Senate was named Robert Jubelirer, who had been a political powerhouse in Blair County for more than 30 years.
There was no Pope at the time, as John Paul II had died about a fortnight before. Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger was thought to be the likely to be elected, though a the Argentinian Jorge Cardinal Bergoglio, SJ, was considered to be an outside possibility.
In American politics, New York Senator Hillary Clinton, was considered to be the frontrunner to be the Democratic Nominee. The first term Senator from Illinois, Barack Obama, was considered to be an outside chance, and perhaps the likely candidate in 2012 or 2016.
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Facebook was limited to college students had no more than three million members. I can’t find when it first came to Penn State. The University president, Graham Spanier, Ph D, had a few critics, but he widely well regarded. Jerry Sandusky was church-going pillar of the community, noted for his charitable work with children; mention his name and I would have said, “Who?”
Donna Summer, was getting ready for 20 city tour celebrating 30 years in the music business in America. I would see her that summer, in Bethlehem, PA, in a car that I had just bought within the last fortnight. My father was alive, but in failing health. I was about 10-15 pounds heavier and did not need bifocals.
There was the Centre County District Attorney’s Office. There we no scandals, no suggestions of any of the staff sexting or smoking marijuana. The incumbent district attorney was retiring after nearly a quarter century of service to Centre County, and was known a hard charging prosecutor. He would often face off against a quite brilliant defense attorney, Stacy Parks Miller. He might take off for a few days, drive a little too fast, and would flirt with women occasionally, but there was rarely anything questionable about his conduct.
Well, since 11/5/11, that image is changing slowly. Eight years out, there is something is something I’ve never expected, serious questions about Mr. Gricar’s pre-disappearance official conduct. Despite the fact that, to date, there is absolutely no evidence of any illegal or unethical conduct on Mr. Gricar’s part, I find myself having to answer questions about “bribery” and “payoffs,” on message boards and e-mails, repeatedly. I’ve actually had this question from people who knew Mr. Gricar during his tenure as district attorney.
There are also, without dipping into the pool of corruption, the situation where Penn State does dominate Centre County, culturally as well as economically. Another blogger, sports blogger Steve Smith, put it quite bluntly as the Sandusky storm first hit. He wrote:
Centre County law enforcement has always been spotty and loaded with favoritism and back-alley deals. The late Ray Gricar gave the villain a free pass on the 1998 allegations when police HEARD the villain admit to showering with little boys. Gricar is not around to defend himself, unfortunately.
He concluded, after making several recommendations, with:
But let real human beings into the process before ONE MAN [Mr. Gricar] decides to give a molester a free pass because he happens to be an icon in the community.1
This has been a public relations disaster for Mr. Gricar, and for any public image he had. The matter has been made worse by people trying to “help” Mr. Gricar.
Over last 18 months, it is very clear that there was enough evidence in 1998 to try Sandusky, despite the earlier claims of the family spokesman, Mr. Gricar’s nephew, Tony.2 That argument ended when the judge threw out none of the charges relating to the 1998 incident.3 In fairness to Tony, he did not know the extent of the situation when he said it and he is not a public relations professional. It still has had an effect, a negative one, on the public perception of Mr. Gricar and the disappearance.
One person who didn’t fall into that trap of the “there was not enough evidence” argument, was Mr. Gricar’s closest friend, former assistant district attorney, Steve Sloane, who was somewhat involved in the 1998 case. In October of last year, Mr. Sloane was charged with selling marijuana.4 While I hope that the charges against him are mistake, he had been charged. This, at least indirectly, reflects on Mr. Gricar, and keeps many of us asking, “What the h*** was happening up there?”
The disappearance of Ray Gricar is now a subplot in the Central Pennsylvania Gothic horror story that is the Sandusky scandal, even if it turns out to be totally unrelated to that disappearance. It casts dark shadows over the disappearance and over Mr. Gricar. Four years ago today, I asked the rhetorical question, “What can you do?” My answer was “You can ask questions.”5 Today, more than a few people are wondering if we want those questions answered. I still do, but I’ve realized that I might not like the answers.
There is now a general negative view of Mr. Gricar; some of the people that care about him, have, ultimately, made it worse. Mr. Gricar’s 1998 decision not to prosecute Sandusky, was, in retrospect, hugely poor judgment, at best, or possibly a desire not go up against a then popular, if not iconic, suspect, and the top employer in Centre County, with a huge base of supporters. If so, he was certainly not alone in a poor exercise of judgment in the Sandusky scandal.
Is it fair that the Sandusky scandal hovers malevolently over Mr. Gricar and his disappearance? Probably not, at least at this point. Prior to scandal breaking, I gave voluntary departure a 52% chance and foul play a 43% chance of being the explanation for the mystery of Mr. Gricar’s disappearance. Today, I give them a 52% and 44% chance, respectively; that is not much of a change (though voluntary departure dropped initially). Motive for walkaway, or the lack thereof, was the main point for a few in the “chattering class” in arguing against that theory (and yes, some of the chattering class deserved the blame for overemphasizing motive over the years). Most of those arguments have disappeared, even though there many possible motives discussed, many of which have little or nothing to do with the 1998 Sandusky investigation.6
There are some good points for the Gricar case that result for the scandal. First, it has increased public awareness of Mr. Gricar’s disappearance and might, eventually, raise some new and useful leads.
Second, also four years ago, the family spokesman said, “”A walk-away can really turn public opinion away from someone that can still be a victim in this case.”7 If this was a walk-away, it won’t turn public opinion too much more away from Mr. Gricar.
That is sad. In an attempt to sway public opinion, many of those trying to defend Mr. Gricar’s “legacy” have helped demolished it. His 1998 decision is clearly now a bad decision, even if it beyond a colossal lapse of judgment and ends up being a decision “to give a molester a free pass because he happens to be an icon in the community.” His 1998 decision, however, was an atypical one and does not represent his entire career.8 It is even sadder when you realize that many people had not heard of Mr. Gricar until the Sandusky case. Their first exposure, and possibly their only exposure, to Mr. Gricar’s record is the Sandusky case.
Further, the Sandusky case may have nothing to with Mr. Gricar’s disappearance; it may only obliquely, being potentially only one of several reasons that Mr. Gricar might have chosen to leave his identify behind. That won’t stop people from, possibly wrongly, thinking that the Sandusky case, and Mr. Gricar’s not to prosecute him in 1998, is the main reason he disappeared.
A lot has changed in eight years. One thing hasn’t. We still don’t know, what happened to Ray Gricar.
3 http://wearecentralpa.com/sanduskytrial_documents (Day 5, pp. 29-31)
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