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Trial to Be Rescheduled for Two Charged with Penn State Professor's Murder

by on October 06, 2017 1:10 PM

The trial for two people accused of the murder of Penn State professor Ronald Bettig is being rescheduled.

Jury selection had been slated for this week, with the trial set to commence on Monday. But the case has been continued until the December term, the Centre County Court administrator's office confirmed.

George G. Ishler Jr., 40, and Danelle R. Geier, 33, are accused of luring Bettig, of Lemont, to a Potter Township quarry where Ishler allegedly pushed the 56-year-old Bettig off a ledge, causing him to fall 80 feet. Investigators said Ishler and Geier believed they could profit from Bettig's death.

Both are charged with first-degree murder, third-degree murder, conspiracy to commit murder, aggravated assault and tampering with evidence.

The trial was postponed after Ishler's attorney, Karen Muir, requested he undergo a mental health evaluation prior to trial. In her initial filing on Sept. 25, Muir wrote that she was "concerned about the mental stability, health and welfare of Mr. Ishler based on a recent conversation."

Judge Thomas Kistler rejected that initial motion, stating that there was no prima facie showing of a need for a competency examination.

In a motion for reconsideration, Muir argued that the prima facie showing is for situations where the person charged or his attorney objects to the examination, which neither Ishler nor Muir did.

Muir said she "is gravely concerned with whether Ishler is suffering from delusions, which he believes, which would severely hamper his ability to assist counsel at trial." She wrote that the statements Ishler made to her are privileged, and to avoid pre-trial publicity of statements that would be inadmissible in court, she offered to share them with the court in camera.

She added that Ishler is taking Paxil -- which is prescribed for depression, anxiety or obsessive-compulsive disorder -- and that he sleeps 12 to 14 hours a day "interrupted by nightmares and bad thoughts."

Because Ishler has been determined indigent by the county, Muir was seeking funds for the evaluation, otherwise she would have sought evaluation without court involvement then asked for a competency hearing if necessary.

District Attorney Stacy Parks Miller responded that the defense misconstrued the statute for incompetency testing. The court may order an incompetency exam without hearing, but is not required to do so. Muir was obligated to show the request was reasonable and not a delay tactic, and she did not include the information in the motion for reconsideration in the initial motion even though it was presumably available.

Kistler said he did not have enough information to grant or deny the request and ordered a hearing this week, ultimately granting the request and pushing the trial back.

Bettig, an assistant professor of communications at Penn State, was found at the bottom of a Potter Township quarry on Aug. 17, 2016, two days after Ishler and Geier reported him missing.

Geier allegedly admitted to police that she and Ishler had planned together to kill Bettig. In an interview with State College and Pennsylvania State Police, Ishler allegedly changed his story several times before giving a full statement implicating him and Geier. 

He sought earlier this year to have that admission thrown out but the motion was denied by Judge Pamela Ruest. Ishler had claimed he was not properly given warnings about his Miranda rights and that he was coerced into making the confession.


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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