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Doctor says drugs, being tied to a tree led to death of victim

Published June 26. 2013 05:03PM

The pathologist who performed the autopsy on the man found dead tied to a tree was the key witness Tuesday in the commonwealth's case against Keith Allen Reber, 49, of 294 Meadow Drive, Schuylkill Haven, who is on trial in Schuylkill County court.

Reber is charged with the murder of Bryan Robert Smith, 26, of Orwigsburg, whom Reber tied to a tree in a dense wooded area about a quarter mile from Reber's home and who remained tied for 20 hours until his death.

Dr. Neil Hoffman, pathologist from Reading General Hospital, Berks County, told the jury the cause of Smith's death was due to excited delirium due to acute methamphetamine intoxication, with a contributory cause of ligature to a tree by manacle of the wrist and legs.

The doctor testified Smith's body contained a large amount of drugs, mostly methamphetamine, but that death was not caused only by overdose of drugs but that an act of another person was a contributing factor in his death.

His examination also noted a large number of abrasions on the body caused by the victim attempting to free himself.

The doctor believed had he not been tied to the tree, his death could have been prevented by obtaining medication for his drug condition.

Under cross examination by the defense attorney, the doctor was asked if Smith had not had the large amount of drugs in his body and was tied to the tree, would just being tied cause his death. His answer was it would not cause his death.

He added the duration he was tied, about 20 hours, brought on extra stress and with the drug intake added to the cause of death.

There had been previous testimony that Reber and another man, William Dull, took Smith into the woods around 3 a.m. of May 28, 2012, and made Smith sit down with his back to a tree and place his hands around the tree. His hands were bound with military ties and also his legs and he was left in that position. Twenty hours later he was found dead with his body lying face down.

Police testified that Reber came to the Schuylkill Haven state police barracks and reported the death. The state police revealed an up-to-date electronic investigative method they now use.

A police car is equipped with a recording device which records the conversation of a defendant in the police car. Police said the defendant is first given his miranda rights.

Trooper Schmitt presented the tape of the conversation they had with Reber while in the police car and on a screen was shown a video taken in the police car showing the car traveling over rural roads in South Manheim Township to the area they found the body.

The tape revealed Reber telling the police that he didn't intend to kill Smith but only teach him a lesson and he repeated this statement several times.

He also told the police he returned to the area where Smith was tied and checked on him and brought him water to drink; when he visited the area the third time, he found him dead and immediately went to police and reported it.

The Commonwealth was expected to conclude its testimony this morning. Reber is expected to testify in his own defense. The case is being tried before Judge Charles M. Miller.

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