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Penn State Professor May Have Been Alive for Two Days After Alleged Push into Quarry

by on August 31, 2016 3:00 PM
Bellefonte, PA

Penn State Professor Ronald Bettig might have been alive and unable to move for up to two days after he was allegedly pushed from a ledge nearly 80 feet above a Potter Township quarry.

That information from Centre County forensic pathologist Harry Kamerow, who determined Bettig died from blunt force trauma from the fall, was recounted by Pennsylvania State Trooper Brian Wakefield during the preliminary hearing Wednesday in Bellefonte for George Ishler, Jr., one of two people charged with murder in Bettig's death.

Ishler, 39, is charged with first-degree murder, third-degree murder, aggravated assault and tampering with evidence. Those charges were bound over following his preliminary hearing on Tuesday. Ishler's niece, Danelle Geier, 32, faces the same charges as well as conspiracy to commit murder. She waived her preliminary hearing on Wednesday.

The 56-year-old Bettig, who was an associate professor in Penn State's College of Communications, was allegedly pushed to his death on the afternoon Aug. 12 and his body was discovered on Aug. 17. Wakefield testified that in interviews with police, Geier said she had little to do with the alleged murder, while Ishler said he was talked into it by Geier. Ishler allegedly admitted to police that he was the one who pushed Bettig off the cliff.

According to Wakefield's testimony, Bettig likely would have still been alive when Ishler and Geier returned the scene hours after the fall to allegedly return Bettig's car and stage the area to look like Bettig had been there alone. He was unsure, however, if Bettig would have been conscious and able to communicate.

The lead investigator and sole witness for Ishler's preliminary hearing, Wakefield recounted the details of the events that led to Bettig's death, as allegedly told to police by Geier and Ishler.

Bettig and Ishler became acquainted in the summer of 2015 while Ishler was working at Choice Cigarette Outlet, where Bettig was a customer. In December, Ishler introduced Geier to Bettig and she and her child moved into Bettig's home on Mulberry Lane in Lemont in January.

By August, however, Ishler and Geier allegedly believed they stood to gain financially from Bettig's death. Ishler allegedly told police that he had handwritten a will that Bettig signed and that Ishler held the only copy in his Pennsylvania Furnace home. Wakefield said police found a document similar to what Ishler described in his home, but have not yet authenticated the handwriting.

Ishler and Geier also were allegedly upset with Bettig's criticism of how Geier was raising her child and that he had been "belittling" Ishler.

On the evening of Aug. 10, all three along with Geier's child traveled to Rehoboth Beach, Del. Ishler allegedly told police that the purpose of the trip was to drown Bettig in the ocean, with Ishler pushing him underwater and Geier holding him under with her legs wrapped around him. Ishler allegedly admitted to dunking Bettig's head underwater but that he could not go through with drowning him, Wakefield said.

While in Delaware, Geier allegedly texted Ishler that she was "pissed off" and "so ready." Ishler was allegedly out trying to buy drugs at the time and only replied that he was on his way back.

When the group returned from the beach on Aug. 12, Geier and Ishler allegedly hatched a plan to tell Bettig that Ishler had marijuana plants growing at the Potter Township quarry that they could harvest and smoke. They drove to the quarry between 3:30-4 p.m. upon their return to Centre County and while Geier waited in the car, Ishler and Bettig walked through a wooded area to the quarry, where Ishler allegedly pushed Bettig over the ledge.

Wakefield said police did not find any marijuana plants in the area around the quarry, but was not sure how far police searched

Ishler allegedly told Geier that they would have to return Bettig's car to the quarry after dark. They returned to Bettig's home and then Ishler allegedly took Bettig's car to his home in Pennsylvania Furnace. At around 11 p.m. he came back to Bettig's home, Wakefield said, and allegedly gathered items including water bottles, a small rake, a flashlight and an empty bag of water softener salt that they intended to place around the top of the quarry to make it seem Bettig had been there on his own.

After allegedly placing Bettig's car near the quarry and staging the scene, the two suspects made plans to not speak until Monday, when Geier would text message Ishler that she had not seen Bettig for several days, Wakefield testified. Ishler would then come to Bettig's house and they would report him missing. Wakefield testified that a review of text messages between the two confirmed similar messages on Aug. 15. They told police that day that both Bettig and his car were missing

Police found Bettig's car on Aug. 17. Wakefield said he was told by officers who investigated the scene that they were led to the area where Bettig's body was found by buzzards flying overhead.

Ishler's defense noted that there is still much investigation and analysis for police to conduct, as well as the fact that much of the interviews and comments made by Ishler were not recorded.



Geoff Rushton is managing editor for StateCollege.com. Contact him at geoff.rushton@statecollege.com or find him on Twitter at @geoffrushton.
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