POTTSVILLE, Pa. - He's accused of gagging a man, tying him to a tree, and leaving him to die. But was it murder or simply revenge gone too far? This week, a Pottsville jury will decide.
Keith Reber, 49, faces life in prison. On the first day of his murder trial Monday, jurors heard two videotaped confessions. In them, Reber told a state trooper he only meant to "teach [the victim] a lesson."
The alleged crime happened on a scorching hot day last May. Reber admits that he tied Bryan Smith of Orwigsburg to a tree on his remote property near the Berks Co. line. But in police car video recordings, he insisted he only meant to "teach [Smith] a lesson not to come around the house anymore."
Reber claimed Smith was stealing from Reber's girlfriend.
"He'd been stealing off her for years, and I finally caught him in the act," Reber told a state trooper in one dashcam video played in court.
But Reber's co-defendant poked holes in Reber's story, claiming that Reber was the aggressor.
"Reber marched him up the hill with a gun and told Bryan to sit down, put his hands behind his back," said co-defendant Danny Dull's mother, Margaret Gradwell.
Dull, who faces trial at a later date, insisted that he was a scared and unwilling participant. Dull reached a plea deal with prosecutors who offered him a maximum six year sentence.
"The truth will come out," said Dull's aunt, Patty Burns. "We know God will play his part in all this and the truth will come out."
On the police recordings, Reber even admitted he went fishing all day, only checking on Smith three times -- and only bringing him water once -- in spite of the hot temperatures.
In one exchange inside a police car, Pennsylvania State Police Cpl. Steven Schmidt asks Reber: "At any point did you think you should call an ambulance for him?'
Reber replied: "No ... He was 'coked up.'"
In the recordings, Reber claims the victim was "real out of it" and high on drugs. Smith had a high level of methamphetamine in his system; Reber's lawyer claims that's what actually killed him.
"He didn't die from any harm I caused him," Reber tells Cpl. Schmidt. "It must have been the dope."
Co-defendant Dull's family didn't buy that argument.
"If he was high, how did he walk up that hill [as Dull testified]?", asked Gradwell.
On the police recordings, a clearly shaken Reber even tells Cpl. Schmidt, "I did the guy a favor, keeping him from killing himself or somebody else."
Monday, family members and jurors also viewed graphic pictures of the victim's muddy and shirtless body, discovered face down next to a tree.
Allentown, PA 18102