The suspect, an 83-year-old man, allegedly killed an 8-year-old Pennsylvania girl in August 1975, as she was on her way to Bible camp.
District Attorney Jack Stollsteimer told reporters Monday in the Delaware County seat of Media that the defendant was “a monster” and “every parent’s worst nightmare.” Having killed a child who knew and trusted him, he then “acted as if he was their family friend, not only during her burial and the period after that but for years,” he added.
The victim, the daughter of a Presbyterian minister and his wife, disappeared in mid-August 1975 while walking from her Marple Township home to Bible camp at Trinity Church Chapel, where the man was pastor. Her body was found two months later by a jogger in Ridley Creek State Park in Media.
According to prosecutors, the man offered the girl a ride, took her to a wooded area, struck her in the head, covered her body, and returned to his church. There, he “tried to act like nothing had happened.” When her father, pastor of the nearby Reformed Presbyterian Church, called seeking to find her, the suspect called police.
Stollsteimer said new information from an unnamed friend of the victim led state police to travel to Georgia and interview the suspect, who authorities allege then confessed to the crime. Stollsteimer vowed to win an extradition fight and bring the suspect to trial in Pennsylvania.
“If you met Gretchen, you were instantly her friend. She exuded kindness to all and was sweet and gentle,” the family said about the victim. “Even now, when people share their memories of her, the first thing they talk about is how amazing she was and still is. At just 8 years old, she had a lifelong impact on those around her.”
Statute of Limitations in Criminal Cases
Extremely serious criminal offenses, like murder and most kinds of sexual assault, have no statute of limitations. An extended delay could violate the Sixth Amendment’s speedy trial provision. However, most courts agree that Sixth Amendment rights, including the right to counsel, only apply once officials file formal charging instruments.
Usually, the statute of limitations in felony cases is about four years. Many people are following the Donald Trump 2020 election fraud saga. The fraud statute of limitations is typically four years. So, if state prosecutors want to bring election fraud charges, the clock is definitely ticking.
Sometimes, prosecutors find creative ways to bypass procedural hurdles, like the statute of limitations. Election fraud is a good example. The federal SOL is five years instead of four. But after November 2024, the federal government’s motivation to prosecute Trump could change drastically.
Incidentally, the statute of limitations doesn’t apply to arrest warrants. Marietta criminal defense lawyers routinely deal with extended delays in these cases.
Assume Rick impulsively moves to Georgia in violation of his Kansas probation. The court issues an arrest warrant. Ten years later, Rick rolls through a stop sign, an officer pulls him over, and the old warrant pops up on the computer.
The officer has probable cause to arrest Rick. In fact, department regulations probably mandate an arrest. What happens next is less certain, partially because a Marietta criminal defense lawyer might be able to invalidate the warrant, and partially because of extradition issues.
Multistate Extradition Procedure
International extradition is often a very complicated matter. Multistate extradition is straightforward, at least on paper. The Constitution’s Extradition Clause clearly states that:
A person charged in any state with treason, felony, or other crime, who shall flee from justice, and be found in another state, shall on demand of the executive authority of the state from which he fled, be delivered up, to be removed to the state having jurisdiction of the crime.
However, as the old saying goes, the devil is in the details. Additionally, political agendas change, as mentioned above.
Expense payment might be the thorniest detail. Usually, the “executive authority of the state from which he fled” must pay the entire cost, including transportation and security. The requesting authority normally also assumes all liability. If the plane crashes and the suspect dies, the suspect’s survivors may sue the requesting authority.
Most states don’t have money to burn and don’t want additional liability exposure. For a major case, like the one in the above story, they’ll usually assume these risks. For a less serious offense, the state from which he fled might wash its hands of the matter.
Politics comes into play as well. Just before this man’s arrest, Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro announced an extension of a death penalty moratorium in the Keystone State. Therefore, Pennsylvania prosecutors might think twice about a quick extradition and a quick trial, which is clearly what they have in mind, according to the above story.
This process is often very long and frustrating for everyone. An extended delay could bring up speedy trial issues, which means we’re back to the validity of the arrest warrant.
Finally on this point, the lawyer’s vow to fight extradition is a losing battle. The laws and rules are very clear. However, an extradition fight delays the prosecution. Delay always hurts the party with the burden of proof. Any delay could mean the difference between a conviction and an acquittal.
Legally, fellow officer tips are 100 percent reliable. If Officer A receives a radio report about a speeder from Officer B, Officer A can make an arrest, even though s/he didn’t see the offense. Informer tip reliability goes down from there.
The tipster’s motivation might be the most important reliability factor. Some people are tattletales. They tell stories to get attention. These tales are often exaggerated. Other informers give statements in exchange for promised leniency or money.
Officers often try to cover up such motivations. For example, instead of offering formal amnesty, they promise to “do what they can” about a pending investigation or other matter.
Anonymous tips are at the bottom of the barrel. Judges are reluctant to rely on information the tipster won’t vouch for.
Incidentally, unreliable tips might be accurate. A blind squirrel occasionally finds a nut. But no one should rely on a blind squirrel to find a nut.
We mentioned Constitutional protections in criminal cases above. Another provision, the Fifth Amendment, gives suspects the right to remain silent during interrogations. Asserting this right, as is so often the case with civil rights, comes with a price.
Police interrogators don’t play nice, especially in serious cases. Officers often put off requests to lawyer up. There’s also the tried-and-true “we called the lawyer and left a message” line. Courts usually look the other way when such things happen. Furthermore, under current law, investigators can keep asking questions unless a suspect says the magic words.
The ultimate price is an arrest. Suspects who clam up almost always get locked up. But if the investigation had reached that point, an arrest was probably inevitable anyway.
Criminal cases have many layers before the trial even starts. For a free consultation with an experienced Marietta criminal defense attorney, contact The Phillips Law Firm, LLC. Virtual, home, and jail visits are available.