An unusual murder trial is unfolding in Schuylkill County court with the Commonwealth asking a jury to find Keith Allen Reber, 49, of 294 Meadow Drive, Schuylkill Haven, guilty of murder for the death of Bryan Robert Smith, 26, Orwigsburg.
The defense is claiming there was no murder because the victim died of a drug overdose.
Assistant District Attorney Michael O'Pake admits the autopsy says the cause of death was from acute methamphatime overdose but claims because Reber took the victim into the woods and tied him to a tree and left him tied for 24 hours, that he contributed to his death. He is charged with criminal homicide, aggravated assault, kidnapping, criminal conspiracy, unlawful possession of firearms, recklessly endangering another person, possession of a firearm with an altered manufacturing number, and simple assault.
Defense Attorney Robert J. Kirwan II, told the jury in his opening statement that there is no evidence to show murder as the victim's death was attributed to a heavy dose of methamphatime plus a whole host of other drugs.
"This death was accidental, not murder," he told the jury. He admitted the action by the defendant in tying Smith to a tree and leaving him in this condition for a period of time was a "stupid" act but not murder.
Kirwan told the jury the defendant will testify and tell them the reason he took Smith into the woods was to "teach him a lesson," for ransacking a home. He said Reber will also testify that he came back twice to check on Smith and even brought him water and on third visit he found him dead.
Kirwan added that Reber immediately notified the police and told them what occurred and led them to the scene where they found the body.
The first witness for the Commonwealth was Sheena Smith, sister of the decedent. She testified when she and friends returned home they found Smith had trashed the home by tossing papers on the floor. She testified while she was upstairs in her bedroom she looked out the window and saw the trio, Smith, William Dull, and Reber get into the car and drive off.
Questioned by the defense, she said Smith was not dragged into the car but appeared to get in voluntarily and they drove off.
Another twist to the case was the presentation as a witness, Dull, whom the Commonwealth has also charged with criminal homicide, aggravated assault, kidnapping, criminal conspiracy, unlawful restraint, recklessly endangering another person, and simple assault. Dull is sceduled to be tried separately at a later date.
Dull first took the witness stand while the jury was out of the room as Judge Charles M. Miller questioned him if he was voluntering to testify because anything he said on the witness stand could be used against him at his trial. He insisted on testifying.
Dull's testimony was that he was only a spectator to what occurred and played no part. He admitted getting into the car with Smith with Reber and thought they were taking Smith home and was surprised when they went to Reber's home.
He said Reber entered his home and came out with military ropes and a gun and waived the gun and said they were going into the woods.
He said he was scared and Smith did not resist. After walking about a half mile he testified Reber told Smith to stand against a tall tree and then told him to sit down with his back to the tree and to place his hands in back around the tree.
Dull said Reber tied Smith to the tree and placed a towel in his mouth. He said Reber told him he was teaching Smith a lesson and they left. He denied playing any part in the scheme.
Dull said the next day he got a call from Reber who asked he meet him at a food store and when he arrived he was told by Reber that Smith was dead and that he was going to the police and told Dull to make his own decision. Dull said he went home and told his girlfriend and mother and then they all went to the police.
Dull has worked out a plea agreement with the Commonwealth who promised him for testifying they would only seek a prison sentence of three to six years plus an additional four years on probation.