"It was his choice," was the surprising comment Keith Allen Reber, 49, of 294 Meadow Drive, Schuylkill Haven, told a jury Wednesday afternoon in Schuylkill County court, as he testified in his own defense.
Reber is charged with murder, kidnapping and nine other criminal charges for the death of Bryan Robert Smith, 26, Orwigsburg, whom Reber tied to a tree during the early morning hours in a heavily wooded area in South Manheim Township. Smith was tied up for 20 hours and was found dead.
Reber testified that Smith was given three choices: Take a beating, be arrested, or be tied to a tree as a lesson for trashing Reber's girlfriend's home.
He also added another bizarre statement.
"He took it like a man. I was very proud of that because it was a family matter," stated Reber.
It all began when Reber and friends came back to the home of Lisa Keller, Reber's girlfriend, and found it trashed and Smith inside the residence.
Reber said Smith had done this many times, but the family would not censor him. He and Daniel Dull, 25, Orwigsburg, who is awaiting trial on the same charges as Reber, but received a plea bargain offer from the commonwealth for his testimony against Reber, accosted Smith at the home.
Reber said Dull wanted to beat up Smith, but Reber said he was against it because Smith was family. He was thinking of arrest, but felt that also would not sit well with the family, and came up with the novel way of punishment. Reber said he thought of a child being placed in a corner for punishment, but an adult needed a stronger punishment.
Reber testified that they gave Smith the option and he chose being tied to a tree. The trio left in Reber's car and drove to Reber's home where he obtained the ties, a flash light and took a pistol. They walked into the woods from Reber's home and came to a heavily-wooded area where Smith was asked to place his back against a tree and sit down. His hands were tied behind him around the tree and his legs were also tied. They left him and went on their way.
He placed the ties around 3 a.m. He went home and woke around 8 a.m. and then visited the site where Smith was tied up, but didn't release him because he still had a cocky attitude, Reber said. He returned around noon with water and still Smith acted cocky.
When Reber made his fourth visit he found Smith was lifeless. He untied him, but left the body at the site and went home, called Dull and explained they had fouled up and that he was going to the police.
Reber at times broke down in describing finding Smith dead.
"I had no intent to kill him," he said with emotion, "harm him, or terrorize him, but only to teach him a lesson to stop messing up" his girlfriend's home.
He said he was unaware how much drug intake Smith was under, but testified, "he was messed up."
He tried to explain to the jury, "We made a deal and it was his idea to be tied up."
Reber added he had no idea that Smith would die and admitted it was a stupid mistake on his part.
"I just wanted to save him from a beating by Dull or being arrested," Reber testified.
Reber was the final witness.
The case is scheduled to resume this morning with the closing arguments of the attorneys and then the charge by presiding Judge Charles M. Miller.
The jury will have to decide as to what extent Smith's death was due to Reber's actions. The autopsy report placed the cause of death as excited delirium due to acute methamphetamine intoxication with contribution caused by ligature to a tree by manacle of wrists and legs.