The responses from the community I have had to my last two blog posts covering this trial have been moving. My inbox was full within hours of posting last nights blog, PART II – Penn State Professor Ronald Bettig Predicted His Own Death, and Warned his Friends. The Irony of the Circumstances and Scary Premonition Preceding Dr. Bettig’s Death
The accounts were variable, but many of them actually focused around the character of Amanda Fetzer, who testified yesterday. While the prosecution brought her out as a witness who was “taking care of Bettig” and while supporters of Fetzer also have relayed the same, there were some things I had no idea about going on behind the scenes.
It seemed, by some very close acquaintances of Ronald Bettig, that Amanda Fetzer and Josh Marlowe were not caretakers with hearts of gold. And like the many people Gettig seemed to attract in the final years of his life after losing his wife in 2011, Fetzer and Marlowe had their own agendas.
Bettig, whom I had previously emphasized as a bleeding-heart liberal certainly seemed to take sympathy on Fetzer, a Uni-mart employee. Informants of HappyValleyCitizen wrote me, “Marlowe was caught up the drug scene,” or “Marlowe was a panhandler, two months before he even met Bettig Josh was on the street begging for change.”
But then Marlow and Fetzer met Bettig. And though Bettig paid only a nominal fee for Fetzer and Marlowe to clean his house, they had their own agendas. Marlow and Fetzer wanted to get on their feet. She was working a minimum wage job as a clerk at UniMart for minimum wage and he was unemployed. Bettig was counseling Marlow, perhaps like he may have to some of his students, on how to improve himself.
Eventually Marlow convinced Bettig he was going to start his own business. Some type of home contracting or landscaping business. The only thing in his way is that he didn’t have a car. He had a great business plan he purportedly told Bettig. It was a “no fail” business plan. All he needed was a car, but his credit was bad.
Bettig responded something to the effect of “well, if that is the only thing standing in your way,” it’s an easy fix. Marlow promised to pay him the full amount due every month and to keep the car insured. Bettig was, by reports, just glad Marlow seemed to be taking some positive direction with his life. They went to purchase a cheap car so he could begin his business mowing lawns or doing small home repairs. It wasn’t going to be a lavish car, it was going to be a truck that was affordable and got the job done.
Marlow and Bettig went to a car dealership looking for a practical used truck, and Marlow drove off in a $38,000 dollar truck. Bettig paid the down payment and used his near-perfect credit. He purportedly told one of his friends that he believed in Marlow, and thought the kid had potential, he just needed to catch a break. Marlow told Bettig he had a fool proof business plan and the only thing standing in his way was the need for a truck.
Marlowe never made a payment, and even on a hefty Penn State pension/sabbatical salary, the payments on this brand new $38,0000 dollar truck were substantial. Bettig never had the heart to repossess the truck in his name, but he was growing increasingly irritated, and it seemed that Bettig was surrounded and attracting all sorts of people whose goal was to sponge off of him.
This was all in the months leading up to his murder, when George Ishler was also beginning to cause him a lot of grief and anxiety and fear.
Bettig had a lot going on.
In most murder trials, the accused does not take the stand. It seems interesting to me that Deborah Lux would allow her client, Danelle Geier, to take the stand, particularly as she had engaged an expert in psychology/psychiatry, and likely was aware of the mental slowness that Danelle Geier’s family all recounts.
- The woman accused of conspiring to murder a 56-year-old Penn State professor testified about her interactions with the professor, the man also accused of murdering the professor, police, her past life experiences and more on Thursday. CITATION
Danelle had reunited with her uncle in February of 2015. After coming from Florida after a divorce, it had been a long time seeing her family. She was newly returned home, and now had a new infant from a man (her ex boyfriend) in State College.
- Later than month, Geier, her son and her ex-boyfriend moved in with Ronald Bettig.
Bettig recognized a young couple struggling, and fell in love with the infant. it was supposed to be a temporary arrangement. Geier’s ex boyfriend was much younger than her, and but somehow running around with with younger women. Women who were significantly younger than Geier.
- “We didn’t have a very good relationship to be honest,” Geier testified.
Members of Geier’s family (who will remain unnamed) did not like the father of her second child, this boyfriend of hers, from the very start. He was irresponsible. He was a poor parent. Bettig happily stepped up into that role, once having been a responsible father himself. He liked having a toddler around, going to the extent of buying car-seats, baby clothes, baby food and diapers.
But the relationship between Geier and her second child’s father was quickly falling apart, even before she caught him sleeping with another woman. Family members do not describe this boyfriend as abusive or violent, they pretty much chalked up this new man in her life as being “irresponsible.”
- The relationship ended when she and Bettig witnessed him having sexual intercourse with another woman in Bettig’s basement. After he was kicked out of the home, Geier testified she and Bettig began a sexual relationship. CITATION
Bettig, lonely after the loss of his wife, was likely looking for something more than Geier was capable of giving. Geier’s baby played into the dynamics as well. Bettig loved the kid, and was stepping into the role of a father figure even at the advanced age of 56, loving a child who was not even his own biological son. Even the neighbors remarked that Gettig just loved that little kid.
- Deborah Lux, defense attorney for Geier, then questioned her about the June 2016 trip she took to Delaware with both men [her co-murder defendant and Uncle Ishler, as well as Bettig] and her son.
Family member(s) back up this account. Heroin was easier to score along the coast, and Rehoboth had a huge problem. Plus, Ishler had connections in the area. Gettig wanted to take a vacation, show the baby the ocean for the first time, and maybe smoke a little weed and spend some time with Danelle, a woman he had become was devotedly loyal to and doted on.
- “We went there to get drugs. We went there because that’s where George said his connects (connections) were,” Geier testified.
Bettig liked weed. No doubt about that, but by many accounts it is addictive. He was also experimenting.
- She and Bettig injected heroin and crystal meth for the first time, but neither found it to be an enjoyable experience so they agreed to never do heroin or crystal meth again when they returned to Pennsylvania, according to her testimony. CITATION
If you grow up sexually abused and beaten, you are likely to turn to drugs if you do not get treatment. Cantorna might be a soft spoken non-aggressive man, but his intuition is scary.
- District Attorney Bernie Cantorna pushed back on her testimony and Geier eventually testified she had injected heroin in Williamsport before doing so with the professor. CITATION
But acquaintances of Bettig conferred to me that this was a one time occurrence for him, an experimental thing by a liberal professor that grew up in the ’70s and probably was open-minded enough to “try everything once.” Not saying anyone should try heroin once, but take a step back and look at his ongoing bought of chronic depression, and the influence of the people surrounding him.
It’s easy to manipulate words, and District Attorney Bernie Cantorna quietly made his “what if” case with little fan fare, subtly suggesting that the animosity between Ishler and Bettig was coming to a head. Perhaps Ishler was out purchasing more than just marijuana with the $80 dollars – maybe he was shooting up somewhere. God knows, I personally put nothing past Ishler.
According to an earlier witness, Geier then sent Ishler a text that read, “So ready I am pissed off. While the Commonwealth made inferences that this might be in relation to a secret plot for murder, I think it was more in reference to Geier’s desire to smoke weed. Or, later on, Geier would provide another reason, which I think she likely fabricated. She would say that it was Bettig who was yelling at her over Ishler taking too long to procure the marijuana. I seriously doubt this is the case, as there is no one who can account for Bettig ever really losing his temper. Bettig was more the type to vent to his friends, and internalize his most destructive emotion, which is, I suspect, is the reason he had remained chronically depressed since 2011.
I was tired of sticking up for George and getting yelled at for it. I do it all the time and I’m tired of it,” or so she had responded in testimony.
Geier paints herself as the victim. While there may be special exaggerations on that subject now that she is on trial for conspiracy to commit murder, in many respects Geier was a victim – but not a victim of Bettig.
- When Ishler returned without marijuana, that allegedly made Bettig “furious.” The two continued to argue and Ishler said he was willing to sell his truck and share the marijuana he was growing at an abandoned quarry. CITATION
I know first-hand that it is hard to procure weed in State College. It’s often actually easier to get heroin or pain pills, which is the most twisted thing about it. Bettig, who enjoyed marijuana, and it probably relaxed him, eased his depression and by accounts brought out his more intellectual side ( He would just say off the wall things [of an intellectual nature]), he was amicable to the idea, more than amicable. It was a free source. There is a reason marijuana was legalized in Pennsylvania and in 32 other states. Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner believes the legalization of weed will reduce opioid deaths. If you talk to an opioid addict or someone with any sort of addiction, they are inclined to agree.
They visited the quarry shortly after the Rehoboth trip. Geier remained in the car. Ishler and Bettig disappeared into the foliage, and shortly thereafter Ishler returned alone. He informed Geier that Bettig was tending to the marijuana plants. They both then returned to Bettig’s house “for gardening tools.”
Ishler, Geier and her son went back to Bettig’s house because Ishler said Bettig needed specific tools to replant, according to her testimony. When they got back to the house, she testified she noticed pebbles in Ishler’s knee.
“He told me that he argued with Ron up there because he was wondering where the pot plants were,” Geier testified. “He sat there and told me different stories. One story that he argued with him, one story that he pushed him, one story that he didn’t push him and one story he walked backward and went off the cliff.”
When she asked Ishler why he did it, he allegedly told Geier, “That he had to. That he was yelling at him and calling him stupid.” CITATION
Geier states she was concerned, but apparently not concerned enough to alert law enforcement. And this is the reason why even members of her own family believe she needs time in jail. Certainly the 25 year plea bargain offered to Geier was excessive, they think, but 5-10 years is appropriate.
Geier continued to question Ishler and asked if Bettig was OK.
“He said he was dead. He said he didn’t think he survived the fall and I believed him. I believed every word he said to me,” Geier testified. CITATION
This is where Geier, in my opinion, overplays her victim card with the jury. She expresses that her Uncle George Ishler threatened to kill her and her son if she told anyone. I strongly doubt that was the case, and I am not alone in that sentiment. Many people felt that Geier feared that calling the police would result in criminal implications for herself, even though she had been nowhere near the site where Bettig was allegedly pushed. There was no definitive proof that Geier knew Bettig was deceased. There was only Ishler’s account of it. One would think, in such a case, if there was a remote possibility that another human being suffered from a fall and had the small chance of surviving it, then their moral conscious would compel them to put their own selfish concerns of being criminally implicated aside and dial 911.
Geier then went on to testify that Ishler raped her after disclosing to her of Bettig’s purported death. I don’t know if this is true either. Accounts from the family relay that they would be unsurprised if Ishler had sexually abused or raped Geier, but the testimony – according to onlookers in the audience – seemed insincere. Geier’s strategy on the stand seemed to be “poor me,” he did everything. There was an entire lack of responsibility. Maybe Ishler did rape his niece, but nothing ever came of it.
Compounding the doubtfulness of her “poor me” defense, she continued to testify ugly things about Ishler. She said Ishler admitted to killing his mother with fentanyl a long time ago and nobody knew because he “got away with it. It’s an interesting time to bring this up. I wonder if she had conferred with her lawyer before saying it. Had that been true, it seems Geier would have mentioned that information somewhere before. The rumor is not pervasive and furthermore the Geier family is skeptical. Plus, the timing of the rumor makes no sense. Geier only decided to come out with this information when she was on trial?
And Geier was a poor witness. With her slower intellectual abilities, lying is not her forte. Manipulation is not a skill that she seems to have the sophistication to employ. She seemed transparent, and her defense seemed one sided. The decision of her lawyer to put this woman on the stand was probably a giant legal mistake. In other words, Geier wasn’t fighting for her own innocence because of her overt insistence she was a victim not a criminal, nor was she taking any personal responsibility. And I believe with her lack of sophistication in the ability to manipulate or communicate effectively, that her motives were transparent. And whether or not her lawyer, Deb Lux, prepped her strategically to play the card of the victim, it was ineffective. Had I been her lawyer, Geier would have never taken the stand. She folded easily under pressure, propagated a one dimensional explanation for her actions, and she came across – frankly – to certain members in the courtroom audience as disingenuine.
In a pre-trial or preliminary hearing in the case involving the murder of Bettig, there were only “portions” of the recorded “confessions.” In some testimony of officers, it was literally a case of hearsay. The police wrote up a report as to what was purportedly said, but there was no electronic documentation of the exact conversation or portions of the confession they are referring to. I haven’t read the transcripts quite yet, but I am getting there. First of all, McKown had promised to send them, and secondly, I owe Webia (the electronic docketing service in Pennsylvania) some money and didn’t want to pay my pretty substantial bill for previously accessing records that are classified as “public” and should be free to access anyway. But that is a whole different subject matter.
This is half the case, because jurors were presented with electronic evidence of “portions” of the confession.
When she finally felt she was safe to share her information with police, she testified officers did not believe her and were not respectful or professional with her.
“Every time I said anything, they said I was lying because George told them a different story,” Geier testified. “They turned everything toward me. They kept repeating everything over and over. George said this, George said that.”
I doubt this. If I were to compare Isher’s and Geier’s ability to remain calm and strategic and not “crack” during a murder interrogation, I would put my money on Ishler. I suspect the cops also were aware of the intellectual vulnerabilities of Geier and played her like a straight flush. Maybe that is the reason the recordings of the interrogation are not in existence – because the tactics employed were less than ethical. If Geier purportedly “confessed”, then where is the recorded confession, and why was it never played to the jury?
She also testified one officer accused her of having a sexual relationship with Ishler, which she denied in her testimony. CITATION
This is only half true. While I am aware rape victims despise the use of the words “sexual relations” because that infers there was consent involved, I do have a sense that George, like his incarcerated relative, sexually abused certain members of that family. I think physical and sexual abuse was rampant in the Geier home and had gone on for ages.
“I’ve been through a lot in my life. Been through a lot of sexual abuse in my life, too. I was abused by my stepfather, my brother and my mom’s boyfriend. So I’ve been abused a lot in my life,” Geier testified. “I’ve been raped a bunch in my life, too. I’ve had a lot done to me.”
This is confirmed by relatives of Geier whom have disclosed this information to me, quite bravely, trusting me that I will protect their privacy. And I have been very careful to do so. Growing up in the Geier household was not a cake walk. It was full of alcohol and drug infused physical and alleged sexual abuse. The sexual abuse is a viable theory due to one of the Geier relative’s prison sentence of 175 years for molesting a 14 year old.
But the Geier’s, though they went through living hell and continue the living hell throughout this trial, have some good people in that family. There seems to be an abject and inexplicable polarization. If your last name is Geier, you are born either as a salt of the earth individual (granted with some minor criminal misdemeanor mistakes at times), or you are born with the blood of Ishler.
Danelle Geier fits neither of these categories due to her mental deficiencies, and her overall well documented and well observed intellectual differences.
The recordings that do exist are ominous, but likely carefully selected by the charging officers. In one recording: Geier told [Detective] Wakefield about a plan she and Ishler created to take Bettig to Rehoboth Beach with the purpose of drowning him in the ocean. When that did not happen, Geier told police Ishler spoke of another plan he had to kill Bettig.
The second plan was to lure Bettig to the top of the quarry, which is where Ishler allegedly had marijuana plants growing. If Bettig did not fall on his own, Geier told Wakefield that Ishler was prepared to “help” Bettig. CITATION
There seems to be little conspiracy to engage in plotting the murder of Bettig from the standpoint of Geier. What does appear is complicity, and a lack of any sort of resolution or action to stop the planning. Whether Geier feared Ishler, or whether Ishler threatened her, any individual in their right mind would have taken some action to stop the senselessly cruel brutality of this crime. Furthermore, if she was so fearful of law enforcement, at minimum she could have gone out alone and checked on Bettig to ensure he was dead as Ishler said. But she did not take any of these actions. As a result, Bettig suffered for days, crippled and helpless and lying dead at the bottom of a quarry. She took her uncle’s word for it that Bettig was dead, when she likely could at least comprehend in her heart that Ishler was a habitual liar who could never be trusted.
The worst thing to me, and likely to the many people following this trial, is the days long suffering and inability to move or phone for help. Not only did Bettig nearly die of grief after the loss of his wife in 2011, he literally suffered one of the worst and most unthinkable fates I can think of.
McKown argues it’s a circumstantial case, and there were no witnesses to say whether Bettig fell or was pushed or accidentally walked backwards off the side of the cliff. But in another portion of the testimony, Geier recalls coming home to get garden tools and seeing pebbles in the knee of one of Ishler’s legs. To me, this infers that Bettig put up a hard fight to live. And then with Ishler coming back to plant evidence, to set it up so it looked like a hiking accident, compounded by the fake will and the strange report of the death to police….. There are too many things that do not add up – particularly when you discuss George Ishler and Danelle Geier with members of their own family.
Many do not mince their words. George did this, and Danelle was to intellectually or emotionally vulnerable, or essentially too weak, to prevent or interpret what was happening.
I’m well read on DA Cantorna. I’ve read his pleadings, read his court transcripts in other matters; I’ve had interactions with him. I’ve essentially studied him. It is Cantorna’s duty to prosecute the case zealously on behalf of the commonwealth. Cantorna litigates very logically and unemotionally. It’s a dry, chess-like litigation. You will never catch him losing his cool in a court of law. That isn’t to say that Cantorna is not deeply emotionally empathetic and intuitive regarding personality types, it’s just that Cantorna has that seasoned sort of intuition that can only be developed by years of practicing law.
While Gaelic Irish men like ADA Sean McGraw can get all stirred up and raise hell, Bernie Cantorna is one of those perpetually even keeled, level headed, almost mathematical lawyers. If he feels one way or the other about a witness, he will never let on. Opposing counsel and angry judges cannot stir him to lose his temper. Bernie litigates with a cool, astonishing unshakable poise. Even at a murder trial, or in the heated argument in court, Bernie maintains not only dumbfounding emotional control, but he is also subtle, gentlemanly and quietly calculating.
So when he ended his questioning at this jury trial with this exchange regarding the police interrogation, there was a quiet strategy to it:
The end of the recording featured a muffled statement from Geier, which Cantorna asked her to clarify.
“Were you going to say you wished you didn’t listen to George Ishler?” Cantorna asked.
“Yes, sir,” Geier testified.
Cantorna read through it all, and through the cross examination he extracted enough information without being malicious or controversial, to – I believe – reveal who the true culprit was.
There was a reason Cantorna ended with that question. It left a resounding unspoken message he was likely trying to convey to the jury: Wait, watch: the mastermind behind this thing is the one who would testify the day after. George Ishler, who testified on April 20, 2018, Cantorna sensed was the mastermind. So he ended his cross, leaving the jury open to consider, as jurors are supposed to, the entire picture.
In the looming disciplinary board hearing Monday with Stacy Parks Miller, what a difference having Cantorna in office. This trial was conducted with dignity. What a difference Cantorna has made.