Orwigsburg man pleads guilty in tree-tying death
by peter e. bortner
POTTSVILLE - Daniel W. Dull is headed to state prison after admitting Tuesday in Schuylkill County Court that he participated in the killing of an Orwigsburg man who was tied to a tree in South Manheim Township.
Dull, 26, of Orwigsburg, must serve three to six years in a state correctional institution, plus an additional four years on probation, for charges resulting from the death of Bryan R. Smith, Judge Charles M. Miller ruled.
"One has a duty to stand up and ... do the right thing," Miller said before imposing the sentence, which was part of the plea agreement between prosecutors and Dull.
Dull, who already has testified against his co-defendant, Keith A. Reber, pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter and conspiracy, while prosecutors withdrew charges of aggravated assault, kidnapping, unlawful restraint, recklessly endangering another person and simple assault.
State police at Schuylkill Haven charged Reber and Dull with taking Smith, 26, from the Schuylkill Haven home of Reber's girlfriend, Lisa Keller, to Reber's residence at 294 Meadow Drive, in the early morning hours of May 28, 2012.
Once there, police said, Reber and Dull took Smith behind the house to a wooded area, where Reber used military-style flex-ties to bind Smith to a tree about 3 a.m. and left him there. Reber returned about 11 p.m. to find Smith had died, according to police.
After a four-day trial at which Dull testified for the prosecution, a jury of eight women and four men convicted Reber, 49, of Schuylkill Haven, on June 27 of involuntary manslaughter, kidnapping, conspiracy, recklessly endangering another person and tampering with evidence, while acquitting him of first-, second- and third-degree murder, aggravated assault, unlawful restraint and two counts of simple assault.
Miller, who presided over that trial, is scheduled to sentence Reber at 1:30 p.m. Aug. 1.
Dull, who walked into the courtroom wearing leg shackles, handcuffs and a belt, said little during Tuesday's hearing except to indicate that he understood his plea and that it was voluntary.
However, his mother, Margaret Gradwell, wept while she told Miller that her son is not a terrible person, in spite of what happened to Smith.
"Ever since Dan was a young boy, he was a caring and loving person," she said. "He's too trusting."
Reber should bear the blame for Smith's death, Gradwell said.
"My son was put in the middle of something over which he had no control," she said. "He will live with regret for the rest of his life."
After the hearing, Assistant Public Defender Christopher W. Hobbs, Dull's lawyer, declined comment.
On the other hand, Assistant District Attorney Michael A. O'Pake, who prosecuted the case along with Assistant District Attorney Rebecca A. Elo, said the plea agreement with, and the sentence imposed upon, Dull were appropriate because of the help he provided in the case.
"Our office felt that it was an appropriate sentence based upon the cooperation of Mr. Dull," O'Pake said. "Mr. Reber was more culpable and more aggressive than Mr. Dull."
In addition to the prison term and consecutive probation, Miller sentenced Dull to pay costs, $50 to the Criminal Justice Enhancement Account and $10,264.70 restitution, and submit a DNA sample to law enforcement authorities.