Susan Reinert, a high school teacher in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, was last seen alive on June 22, 1979, when a neighbor saw her pull out of her driveway with her two children in the back seat. On June 25, police found her naked body in the back of her car. She had died of asphyxiation from a morphine injection, and had been severely beaten. Her two children were never seen again, but were presumed dead.
In 1983, William Bradfield was arrested for murdering Reinert and her children. Bradfield and Reinert had been romantically involved, and Reinert expected Bradfield to marry him, despite the fact that he was also romantically involved with another woman and had told several people he had no intention of marrying Reinert. In preparation for their marriage, Reinert had made Bradfield the sole beneficiary of her will and of a $730,000 life insurance policy. Bradfield was convicted of the murders in 1983 and received three life sentences. He was not eligible for the death penalty because the court said that prosecutors had not established that Bradfield was directly linked to the murders.
Police continued to investigate the possible involvement of another person, and in 1986, they charged Jay Smith with conspiracy to commit murder. Smith, who was incarcerated on unrelated charges at the time, had been the principal at the high school where Reinert and Bradfield were teachers. At the trial, prosecutors argued that Smith had conspired with Bradfield to murder Reinert, and presented circumstantial evidence linking him to the crime, including a hair similar to Reinert’s that was found in Smith’s home, a pin found in Smith’s car that was similar to one Reinert was wearing when last seen alive, and a comb found in Reinert’s car imprinted with the name of Smith’s army reserve unit, “79 USARCOM” – one of more than 20,000 passed out in Pennsylvania. Prosecutors called several witnesses who testified that Bradfield had told them that Smith intended to kill Reinert. The defense objected to this hearsay evidence, but was overruled. Prosecutors also called two jailhouse informants who had been with Smith in prison and claimed that Smith had implicated himself in the murders. One of the informants, Richard Martray, was rewarded with an early release from prison in exchange for his testimony, despite a Pennsylvania law prohibiting such deals with jailhouse informants. Prosecutors lied to the judge and the defense, stating that Martray received nothing in return for his testimony. On April 30, 1986, Smith was convicted and sentenced to death.
In a post-trial investigation in 1988, defense attorneys discovered evidence of egregious prosecutorial misconduct. Six days before the end of the trial, a state trooper had found evidence that grains of sand had been found on Reinert’s feet during the autopsy. This suggested that Reinert had been killed at the beach, where Bradfield had been on the weekend of the murder, supporting Smith’s claim of innocence. This evidence was deliberately suppressed by prosecutors working on the case despite the fact that they knew and discussed its significance. Also in 1988, a Pennsylvania Deputy Assistant Attorney General admitted that state police had helped Martray win release from jail in return for his testimony, and had lied about this deal to the jury. On December 22, 1989, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court overturned Smith’s conviction and ordered a new trial because the hearsay evidence presented at trial should have been excluded.
In March 1992, further evidence of prosecutorial misconduct emerged. A box was discovered in the home of the lead investigator which contained a comb identical to the one that had been found in Reinert’s car; and the investigator in the case was found to have received $45,000 from a best-selling author for providing him with information about the case before a verdict had been decided. Based on this new evidence, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court reversed its order for a new trial and, in a precedent-setting decision, ruled that the prosecution deliberately acted to deny Smith a fair trial, and that retrying Smith would violate his constitutional protection against double jeopardy. Accordingly, on September 18, 1992, charges were dismissed and Smith was released from prison.
- Alexandra Gross