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The main investigator in Hellertown resident Rhonda Smith’s murder case was named the local Pennsylvania state trooper of the year Friday.
Trooper Gregory Stumpo, who works out of the Dublin barracks, was honored during a morning ceremony at Troop M’s Bethlehem barracks. The troop also includes the Belfast, Fogelsville and Trevose barracks.
Two Quakertown residents who assisted in Smith’s case also were recognized. Doug Sylsberry and his 9-year-old son Garrett received Meritorious Citizenship Awards for finding and turning in the murder weapon in the case.
Springfield Township resident Mary Jane Fonder, 66, was convicted in October of first-degree murder in Smith’s fatal shooting. Authorities say Fonder was jealous of the attention Smith, 42, received from their pastor and fellow congregants at Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church in Springfield, where the Jan. 23, 2008, shooting occurred.
Stumpo discredited Fonder’s alibi and her explanation of her gun’s disappearance, said Capt. D. Michelle Turk, the troop’s commanding officer. Stumpo also found gun residue in Fonder’s car and found references about the murder in her day planner, Turk said.
“That case was a very, very complicated case,” Turk said. “He was very tenacious.”
Stumpo said he was somewhat uncomfortable accepting the award, considering several troopers worked on the case. He especially credited his partner, Cpl. Robert Egan.
The case was more difficult than most and had unique circumstances, Stumpo said.
“It occurred in a church, which doesn’t happen that often,” he said. “We weren’t sure what happened at first — it took a lot of work.”
Stumpo also lauded the Sylsberrys, who found Fonder’s gun in Lake Nockamixon while fishing in March 2008.
“They could have easily kept the gun or thrown it back in the lake,” he said. “They did what’s right.”
The troop rarely hands out Meritorious Citizenship Awards, but the Sylsberrys are especially deserving, Turk said.
“They found a gun that was a key piece of evidence,” she said. “It was very critical.”
The Sylsberrys said they were surprised and honored to receive the awards. Garrett said he plans to hang it on the wall of his room, where he also has football and hockey awards.
“I was going to keep it on my dashboard in case I get pulled over,” Doug Sylsberry said jokingly.
The awards were part of the troop’s annual State Police Memorial Day ceremony. The event memorializes the 91 state troopers that have been killed in the line of duty in the force’s 104-year history.