Evidence surfaces in Reinert case

Junkman's find could raise questions about murders that riveted nation 
03/29/92
By Laird Leask and Pete Shellem
The Patriot News

 
    A box removed from the attic of the lead investigator in the famed Susan Reinert murder case has yielded evidence that seems to raise serious questions about the case and could clear convicted killer Jay C. Smith.

   A duplicate of the comb that connected Smith to the crime scene, investigative notes that contradict prosecution testimony and a letter from an author offering an investigator $50,000 before arrests were even made were found in a box that Trooper Jack Holtz was apparently discarding.

   All evidence from Smith 's trial is supposedly sealed by court order and stored by the state attorney general's office.

   William C. Costopoulos, the Lemoyne lawyer representing Smith, a former Upper Merion High School principal who was sentenced to death for Reinert's murder, filed papers in Dauphin County Court late Friday asking Senior Judge Robert L. Walker to put all evidence from the case in the care of a court-appointed custodian.

   Costopoulos also asked that the judge order the prosecution to explain why the evidence was not turned over to the defense, and to allow him to analyze some evidence.

   Smith and William S. Bradfield Jr., Reinert 's fellow English teacher at Upper Merion, were convicted of killing Reinert and her two children in 1979 to collect $750,000 in insurance in a case that evolved into a national best seller and a highly rated CBS miniseries. The bodies of the two children, ages 11 and 10, were never found.

   Wellsville flea marketer Mark A. Hughes said he stumbled across the box in material he collected after being hired by Holtz to clean out the attic and basement of the trooper's Lower Paxton Twp. home.

   Hughes turned the evidence over to Costopoulos on March 17, believing it showed a police cover-up in the case. Hughes was the subject of a brief theft investigation initiated by Holtz after the trooper learned of the box.

   Hughes was questioned for more than two hours by state troopers Thursday, but Dauphin County District Attorney Richard A. Lewis said he will not be charged.

   Chief Deputy Attorney General M.L. "Skip" Ebert Jr., who is handling the Smith case, said he was waiting to see what evidence Costopoulos has before assessing its impact on the case.

   However, he said all the evidence was ordered sealed by the court at the close of the 1986 trial and is supposedly in sealed boxes in the possession of the attorney general's office.

   "The evidence that was presented in the trial in Dauphin County was sealed by the court and those containers are with me," Ebert said. "Once the materials are turned in, then, in the presence of the court, maybe some of these boxes will be opened and we'll find out what's in them."

   State police officials would not return repeated phone calls from The Patriot-News. Holtz was unavailable for comment.

   Smith received three death sentences in the 1979 murders, but was granted a new trial in December 1989 by the state Supreme Court.  Costopoulos is now arguing that a second trial would constitute double jeopardy because of misconduct by prosecutors.

   Hughes' discovery will further strengthen that argument, Costopoulos said.

   He said the most critical piece of evidence found in the box is a comb marked 79th USARCOM  Smith 's reserve unit. During the trial, an identical comb was introduced by prosecutors and alleged to have been found under Reinert 's body when it was discovered in the trunk of her car at a Swatara Twp. motel.

   Sealed in an evidence bag with fingerprint lifters and marked with FBI lab identification numbers, the comb is not the same one that was presented at trial, according to Costopoulos' petition.

   The comb police used to link Smith to the crime scene at the 1986 trial was labeled as a trial exhibit and the comb in the evidence bag is not, Costopoulos said.

   Furthermore, based on Ebert's comments, the comb presented at the trial should be sealed with other evidence in the attorney general's office.

   In addition to the comb, a Jan. 29, 1981, letter from author Joseph Wambaugh - who wrote "Echoes in the Darkness," a best-selling book about the case - shows he offered Holtz's late partner, Sgt. Joseph Van Nort, $50,000 for information before there were any arrests, according to the petition.

   "P.S. Since I would start the leg work immediately we should be very careful about being seen together for the sake of your job," Wambaugh wrote. "As far as witnesses would know, I received all my information from news stories and anonymous tips."

   Efforts to contact Wambaugh for comment were unsuccessful.

   The box also contained 23 numbered and dated notebooks prepared by Holtz, with the exception of number 13. Costopoulos claims the 13th
notebook covers a time period when Holtz was dealing with jailhouse informant Raymond Martray, who testified Smith admitted killing the three.

   Costopoulos has long challenged whether there was a deal with Martray to testify. He alleges in the petition that Holtz wrote in another notebook that Martray quoted Smith as saying he "did not" kill Reinert .

   In an interview with another jailhouse informant, Holtz's notes state that alleged co-conspirator Bradfield admitted that he acted alone in the slayings, according to the petition.

   Further, Holtz's notes show that witnesses told him Reinert's daughter, Karen, wore a blue pin with the letter "P" on it, like one that was found in Reinert 's car, the petition states. One witness testified at Smith 's trial that she wore a green pin like one that was allegedly discovered in Smith 's car a year after the murder while the former principal was incarcerated.

   Costopoulos had little comment about the new twist in the case, saying the petition "speaks for itself."

   "Normally exculpatory evidence comes from the commonwealth," he said. "This is the first time I got it from a junkman on the way to the incinerator."

   Costopoulos' petition blasts what he calls the error-laden prosecution of the case, which has taken new turns nearly every year since Smith 's conviction.

   Costopoulos initially attacked the conviction after it was discovered that rubber evidence lifters containing sand reportedly taken from Reinert 's feet were found in an evidence locker during the final days of the trial. They were not revealed to the defense until more than a year later.

   The lifters support Costopoulos' allegations that Reinert was killed at the New Jersey shore by Bradfield.

   He also notes in the petition that hair and fiber evidence that the prosecution used to link Smith to the slaying was lost from 1983 until the middle of the trial in 1986, receipts that refuted Bradfield's alibi are missing, the 911 tape alerting authorities to the discovery of Reinert 's body was mistakenly destroyed, Reinert 's body was accidentally cremated, and the autopsy audio tape was lost until after the trial.

   "In this case, the commonwealth has consistently concealed or `lost' material," Costopoulos charges in the petition.

   "Until a judge tells me what to do with it, I intend to keep the box I got from the junkman," Costopoulos said.