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Former Centre County prosecutor missing since '05 declared dead

| Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Legally, Ray Gricar is dead.

A Centre County judge ruled on Monday that the fruitless efforts of law enforcement to find the missing former prosecutor, his lack of contact with his family and no movement in bank and cell phone records are enough to declare him deceased. His daughter can start distributing his estate, and his county pension will be paid to his beneficiary.

But after a court hearing, the lead investigator, Bellefonte police Detective Matthew Rickard, said he won't stop trying to solve the mystery. A task force, including authorities from the FBI, continues to meet and pursue creative leads, including one last week that led them to Altoona.

"I don't think the mystery is ever going to be solved," attorney H. Amos Goodall Jr. said. He filed the petition on behalf of Gricar's only daughter and sole heir, Lara.

"But it lets them move on with their lives," he said. "Close the case, and continue to live the way they were planning on living."

Since he vanished on April 15, 2005, Gricar's daughter and his live-in girlfriend, Patty Fornicola, testified they've had no contact with Gricar. But they have had to keep up with certain financial obligations, such as his bar association license fees.

Gricar, 59, disappeared after taking a day off work as the Centre County district attorney. His red Mini Cooper was found abandoned in a Lewisburg parking lot, and his county laptop and hard drive were found in the nearby Susquehanna River, too badly damaged to be read.

District Attorney Stacy Parks Miller has said there is no good evidence to point to suicide, homicide or a walkaway.

Goodall believes his friend was murdered.

"I think he's been killed. I don't know what else to say," he said.

Gricar was about eight months from retirement when he vanished. During the hearing, Fornicola testified that she noticed he had been sleeping a lot more in the days leading up to his disappearance. But she didn't notice depression, anxiety or know of any personal or work-related problems in his life, she said.

"We talked about traveling," she said. "He just wanted to enjoy the rest of his life."

His daughter, who lives near Seattle, talked to her father for the last time on the phone on April 14, 2005. She said the conversation was normal.

The last break in the case was around the four-year anniversary, when police revealed that Gricar's home computer had saved searches for "how to wreck a hard drive" and "water damage to a notebook computer."

Yesterday, in the gallery of the Bellefonte courtroom -- where Gricar tried many cases -- several of his former associates and friends watched. His first wife sat with Fornicola and comforted her as she cried after her testimony.

President Judge David E. Grine announced he was satisfied after Lara Gricar said her dad would not allow a charade investigation to go on for six years, three months.

"Would he realize that his disappearance was causing hardship and anxiety for you and other people that he loved?" Goodall asked.

"Without a doubt, absolutely," she answered.

"Do you believe your father is deceased?" he asked.

"Without a doubt, yes."

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