MIDDLEBURG- Snyder County District Attorney Mike Piecuch has announced that criminal charges have been filed against three men for the 1997 beating death of Donald "Donnie" Seebold.
Piecuch said the charges were filed as the result of a difficult but sustained investigation by state police over the past 15 years, culminating in a months-long grand jury investigation. The grand jury has issued a presentment, which was attached to the criminal complaints filed today, containing its findings of fact and its recommendation for criminal charges.
Based on the grand jury's recommendations, criminal charges have been filed against the following individuals: Robert Reich, 36, of 5325 Troxelville Road, Beavertown, is charged with conspiracy to commit a criminal homicide and perjury; Ryan Sprenkel, 36, of 249 Longer Road, Middleburg, and Christopher Aucker, 37, of 5335 Troxelville Road, Beavertown, have also been charged with conspiracy to commit a criminal homicide and perjury; Sheila Liddington Aucker, 36, and Linda Thomas, 45, also have been charged with perjury.
The grand jury concluded that Seebold died as the result of a beating he suffered on July 12, 1997, by a group that included Reich, Sprenkel and Aucker. The grand jury also concluded that Reich, Sprenkel, Aucker, Liddington Aucker and Thomas provided false testimony before the grand jury.
The supervising judge of the grand jury has designated Snyder County as the location for the prosecution of these charges. All five defendants will be preliminarily arraigned before Magisterial District Judge Lori Hackenberg in Middleburg.
"Our sympathies are with the Seebold family," Piecuch said. "They have suffered for too many years without knowing who was responsible for their loved one's death."
"I'm happy to say that this is a case where justice has been delayed, but not denied," he added.
Piecuch complimented the tenacity of state police investigators in overcoming many barriers to finally solve the case. Sgt. Frederick C. Dyroff first brought the case to Piecuch's attention shortly after his appointment as District Attorney in February 2010. They formed a task force to develop and pursue leads in the case. In early 2011, the task force submitted the case to an investigating grand jury sitting in Harrisburg with the assistance of the Pennsylvania Office of the Attorney General. Piecuch praised Attorney General Linda Kelly and her staff for their support and cooperation with the investigation.
Origins of the case
The Seebold homicide investigation began on July 13, 1997, when Sgt. Dyroff (then Trooper Dyroff) responded to a report of a deceased person at Sprenkel's home in Center Township, Snyder County. The deceased person was Seebold. Following an autopsy, pathologist Samuel Land concluded that his cause of death was blunt trauma to the head and should be considered suspicious and unnatural.
Sprenkel testified before the grand jury that he was with Aucker and Liddington Aucker when they discovered Seebold lying along Troxelville Road in the early morning hours of July 13, 1997. According to his testimony, they loaded Seebold into the back of Sprenkel's car and then Sprenkel drove home. Sprenkel testified that he could not get Seebold out of the car by himself so he went to bed. When he checked on Seebold the next morning, he was unresponsive. Paramedics were called but Seebold was pronounced dead shortly thereafter. Sprenkel denied knowing why Seebold died or how he suffered the injuries described by Land.
Hundreds of interviews were conducted since 1997 to answer those questions. Many witnesses stonewalled the state police investigators, claiming that they knew nothing about how Seebold could have suffered his injuries. Investigators also wasted time and effort running down many false leads. For example, rumors were rampant falsely blaming Timothy Steffen or Brian Swartzlander for Seebold's death. Investigators have cleared Steffen and Swartzlander of any involvement in the case. Eventually, investigators found witnesses who admitted to seeing Seebold get beaten at a party the day before he was found dead at the Sprenkel residence.
Testimony and evidence
Several of those witnesses testified before the grand jury. According to the grand jury, Seebold attended a birthday party thrown for Robert Reich on July 12, 1997. The party was held in the yard behind the home of Reich's aunt, Linda Thomas, near Port Ann, Snyder County.
According to witnesses' testimony, Seebold at some point during the party put his arm around Sheila Liddington, who was dating (and later married) Christopher Aucker. The witnesses testified that Liddington took offense and the ensuing commotion attracted the attention of other partygoers. The escalating confrontation, which included Aucker, Reich and Sprenkel, then reportedly turned physical.
According to the grand jury, Seebold was outnumbered and unable to defend himself against the punches and kicks of a group of persons that included Aucker, Reich and Sprenkel. Even after Seebold fell to the ground, the assault continued. The witnesses testified that eventually the group withdrew and Seebold was left lying there on the ground. The grand jury found that this beating caused Seebold's death.
Piecuch said that the pathologist who conducted Seebold's autopsy concluded that his injuries, including a skull fracture and multiple brain contusions, were most consistent with being struck repeatedly in the head. The pathologist also concluded that these injuries were the cause of death.
Witnesses testified before the grand jury that after the beating, Linda Thomas told people to get Seebold off her property. According to the witnesses, Seebold's bloodied, semiconscious body was loaded into a pickup and then unloaded down along Troxelville Road, where he was later discovered by Sprenkel, Aucker and Liddington.
Piecuch asked that anyone with information related to the case contact Pennsylvania State Police at Selinsgrove by calling (570) 374-8145.