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Note: The name of the defendant in this article has been changed to protect their identity as they were a minor at the time of the court proceeding.


Peter Betz (May 5, 1949 – March 7, 1988) was a Philadelphia Phillies executive and a resident of Upper Dublin Township, Pennsylvania who was murdered on March 7, 1988. His father was John Drew Betz; the former chairman of the $386 million-a-year water-treatment firm, Betz Laboratories Inc., of Trevose, Pennsylvania and one of the five limited partners in the Philadelphia Phillies. Peter Betz was divorced and was supported by a family trust. His former wife, Susan Mulford, died of cancer in February 1985.

Contents

The Murder

On the night of March 7, 1988, Peter Betz was found dead lying face up on the kitchen floor of his custom home on the 300 block of Camphill Road in Fort Washington, Pennsylvania. A painter had discovered the body and called the Upper Dublin Police Department. Police immediately suspected Peter Betz’s son, Mitchell Betz (16), as the prime suspect. However, Mitchell Betz was nowhere to be found. The autopsy showed that Betz had been shot twice in the chest and once in the leg with a .357 Magnum. Ballistics later proved that the gun used was the same gun Betz kept in the master bedroom of his home.

Additionally, Upper Dublin Police found a black candle and blood capsules amongst the belongings of Mitchell Betz as well as a quarter in the driveway with an “odd pattern of small rocks positioned around it”. It was conjectured that these items might be associated with Satanism. Former Upper Dublin Police Chief Raymond Polett said schoolmates of Betz told police that he had been interested in Satanism. When they searched Betz's room at the Perkiomen Boarding School in Pennsburg, police were looking for "paraphernalia, books, writings, clothing pertaining to black magic, Satanism, occult or witchcraft," and anything else that might have pertained to the crime. No such materials were found, however. Polett said that he did not believe Betz's fascination with the occult extended beyond a "youthful curiosity."

Arraignment

Police filed an Affidavit of Probable Cause for the arrest of Mitchell Betz, a pug-nosed, black-haired teenager. The charges included first-degree murder, voluntary manslaughter, involuntary manslaughter, aggravated assault, recklessly endangering another person, criminal conspiracy, and possession of an instrument of crime. Mitchell and a schoolmate were found in North Carolina the next day. Mitchell had flagged down a North Carolina State Police vehicle after running Peter Betz's van off the road. Mitchell told the officer that he might be wanted in Pennsylvania for the theft of said van. Upon checking on this story the officer discovered the full charges against Mitchell and arrested him. Mitchell Betz was then transported back to Upper Dublin where he was formally arraigned. At this point, the Philadelphia media started picking up the story.

Preliminary Hearing

At the preliminary hearing in District Court, Brian Forde (16), who was a friend of Mitchell Betz's, testified that Betz had told him he was going to kill his father, take his credit cards, and run away to California. Forde also testified that Betz had confided to him on the afternoon of March 2, 1988, saying that "I hate school. I hate home. I hate my father. I should kill him." Forde said his friend repeated the statement later that evening, adding, "I might use the gun.”

Deputy Sheriff Michael Radford of Nash County, North Carolina, testified during the hearing that Betz had admitted to shooting his father. During a conversation with Betz at the Nash County Jail soon after he had been captured, Betz said to him, "I am going to kill the curiosity. I am wanted on a murder in Pennsylvania. I shot my father in Pennsylvania with a .357 pistol.“ Another witness, Deputy Sheriff Michael Radford of the Nash County Sheriff's Department, testified that Betz had told him he killed his father. "At first they told me they were just traveling," Radford said. "Then, he told me he was wanted for questioning in connection with a homicide in Pennsylvania. I couldn't believe it because they were two clean-cut young kids." Betz also reportedly told Radford he was writing a book about his experiences and would send him a copy.

Mitchell’s defense attorney, Barry Miller, attacked the credibility of Radford’s story. He asked how it was possible that Mitchell could have known he was wanted for murder when Mitchell fled before Peter Betz’s body was discovered. Miller also implied that “kill the curiosity” was more of an expression likely to be used by the southern officer than by Mitchell. Additionally, Miller asked Radford as to whether Mitchell’s claim to be writing a book was actually a sarcastic response given after several hours of stressful questioning.

Plea Bargain

In a plea bargain negotiated between Montgomery County District Attorney Michael D. Marino and defense attorney Barry Miller, Betz was sentenced to eight to 20 years for third-degree murder in the death of his father, Peter Betz. The teenager, who was 16 at the time of the shooting, will also serve five years probation for the possession of an instrument of crime. The plea bargain also stipulated that Betz should serve his sentence at the State Correctional Institution at Rockview, Centre County, where he would be able to pursue his education.

As part of the plea bargain Mitchell requested that he be allowed to address the court to explain some of the circumstance involving the murder. It was understood that the details of the sentencing were already determined and that Mitchell’s statement would have no influence over the outcome. During a 40-minute address to the court, Mitchell portrayed himself a victim of abuse who tried desperately to please his father. He claimed that he shot him in the heat of a dispute that included a threat that the teenager "would tell people what you really are." "He grabbed me and strangled me, almost to the point where I passed out," said Betz. "He told me to get out and I did. I went upstairs to his room. I grabbed the gun and ran back to the stairs where he was coming up [...] and I shot him." Mitchell told the court that when he fled he was of the belief that he had only injured his father. He said that he was fleeing from his father, not from the law. Later he added, “I'll dedicate my life in jail to education and bettering myself." The story told by Mitchell of the night of the murder closely matched the deposed statements of his schoolmate, who could hear the struggle from Mitchell’s room. However, since there was no trial, these statements were never subjected to cross-examination.

Some relatives of the prominent Betz family were upset by the manner in which Peter Betz was portrayed in Mitchell’s testimony and had their own lawyer request that they be allowed to speak on behalf of Peter Betz’s character. The judge agreed, but said he would only allow one member of the family to take the stand. Marion Betz Cornely of Flourtown, the elder Betz's sister, was chosen to represent their interest in this matter. She said Peter Betz was only guilty "of his inability to be a father." Cornely, who at times had taken care of Mitchell Betz, said there had been occasional "problems with his manipulation, his lying." She said her brother "tried to do what he thought was right with Mitchell. I believe that if Peter is guilty of anything, it was trying to make him be accountable."

Aftermath

Mitchell Betz’s plea bargain agreement to serve his sentence in Rockview was never honored. Instead he was classified to SCI Camp Hill where he quickly earned his G.E.D. and began taking college correspondence courses. All of his books and course work were destroyed, however, in the 1989 Camp Hill prison riot, a major riot lasting two days and causing twenty-three million dollars in damage. In 1994 Mitchell was interviewed in prison by Glenn Curry of the Ambler Gazette. Mitchell commented on the irony of being denied the opportunity to serve his sentence in Rockview saying that the authorities simply told him “Camp Hill is the safest place you’ll ever be.” Curry reported that since the riots Mitchell “earned his associate’s degree with a 4.0 average and most of the credits he needs for a bachelor’s degree…learned computer skills and tutored his fellow inmates.”

Asked about charges of Satanism, Mitchell expressed dismay. “That charge was so unfair, not just to me, but to my friends. On no real evidence the newspapers ran with the idea that I was involved in Satanism. Of course, my friends would be considered guilty by association. And what was the evidence against me…Halloween blood capsules, a book on self-hypnosis, a quarter found outside circled by pebbles, and one of my scented candles that happened to be black. I just can’t imagine any ritual involving quarters, fake blood, and the scent of black licorice that might summon up the forces of darkness.”

Curry also questioned Mitchell about why he pled guilty and if he wished that he had taken the case to trial instead. Mitchell replied that he has always felt extremely guilty regardless of the any mitigating circumstances. “If I could send a note back in a bottle I’d say plead guilty. I needed to be punished. If I had been let go at that time, the psychological damage would have been greater than anything that has happened in prison.” Mitchell did state that he regretted giving a statement after his guilty plea. “Talking about my father in such a way was hurtful to other members of his family. They suffered enough by losing him physically and did not need to have me tarnish their image of him as well.” At the time of the Curry interview Mitchell stated that he still had to “wrestle with his feelings of guilt and confusion” mostly on his own as he was able to only obtain minimal psychological counseling. Mitchell expressed concern for his future stating, “My social skills are poor…I don’t have the kind of hope for the future that I did before.”

John Drew Betz, the grandfather of the murderer and father of the murdered, died at age 72 during the trial. Both John Drew and his son are interred in a family crypt at Holy Sepulcher Cemetery in Cheltenham Township, Pennsylvania. His wife Claire is still a limited partner of the Phillies along with Bill Giles, Double Play Inc., Tri-Play Associates, and David Montgomery. She splits her time between the Main Line and Florida. John Drew Betz’s initial Phillies investment of $9.3 million dollars in 1980 is worth $150 million today.








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