Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Gricar Left Lasting Legal Legacy in Centre County

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Gricar Left Lasting Legal Legacy in Centre County

Article excerpt

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. - When Ray Gricar disappeared in 2005, his daughter lost a father. His family and friends lost a loved one.

But Centre County lost a watchdog.

For more than 20 years, he was the teeth of the county's legal system. He took the head chair as district attorney in 1986, a part- time job that took up to 70 hours a week, he told the Centre Daily Times. Ten years later, he became the county's first full-time DA.

"Sometimes I made a conscious effort not to cheat myself and worked about 30 hours a week, but it always bothered me to see the results," Mr. Gricar said at the time. "If I ever took a day off I would be swamped, and professionally, I didn't feel good about the job I was doing."

At that point, he had a staff of 17 people, including administrative assistants, paralegals and lawyers.

Mr. Gricar disappeared April 15, 2005. His red car was found abandoned and his laptop and hard drive were recovered in the Susquehanna River. At the 10th anniversary of his disappearance, the disappearance has not been solved.

Over the years, his office handled a slew of cases - most routine, but a number of them high profile.

As first assistant district attorney in 1985, he prosecuted Moshannon Valley mother Sharon Comitz for the murder of her infant son.

The case was notable as one of the first times postpartum depression or psychosis was used as a defense. Mr. Gricar maintained that Ms. Comitz was aware of her actions at the time, but a number of women have used the same defense over the years.

Texan Andrea Yates was found guilty of the 2001 drowning of her five children, but a 2006 retrial returned a verdict of not guilty by reason of insanity. Claudia Mejia of Illinois was similarly found not guilty of the 2011 stabbing of her baby.

The 1994 conviction of James Cruz recently was in the news when the man found guilty of murdering Massachusetts teenager Dawn Marie Birnbaum and dumping her body in Spring Township lost his bid at an appeal.

One factor in the denial was cited as the inability of many witnesses and other key people to be involved in a retrial. Mr. Gricar's disappearance was noted by the judge. Cruz is an inmate at State Correctional Institution Fayette.

In 1996, Penn State garnered national attention, one of three universities in two months where gunfire erupted. Mr. Gricar prosecuted Jillian Robbins for the shooting. Melanie Spalla, 21, was killed and another student was shot but survived.

The violent, unprovoked attack prompted Mr. Gricar to talk about pursuing the death penalty, although he was public about his opposition to capital punishment.

"It's a matter of principle," Mr. Gricar said. "I don't feel it's right to take a life under the legal process, after the fact. ... I always keep an open mind and evaluate cases through, to the eve of the trial. …

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