SKOWHEGAN, Maine — The man accused of murdering a 20-year-old woman more than three decades ago made his first court appearance Friday afternoon.
Jay S. Mercier of Industry, who is being held at the Somerset County Jail in Madison, appeared by video link in Skowhegan District Court to have the charges read to him. He stands accused of murdering Rita St. Peter in Anson in 1980.
St. Peter’s relatives watched from the courtroom.
“It was hard because it still hurts,” Maxine Cross, who said she was St. Peter’s sister, remarked after the hearing. “I’m so glad that they found him and I hope that justice will be served.”
Mercier, 55, is charged with intentional or knowing murder and depraved indifference murder. He was indicted Sept. 16 by the Somerset County grand jury.
Mercier said he understood the charges against him.
“He’ll have a court-appointed attorney, undoubtedly, and the case will be scheduled for trial after the motions are heard, whatever motions there might be. I suspect it will be in line for trial sometime next summer,” said Assistant Attorney General Andrew Benson.
Mercier entered no plea at the hearing, which was held before District Court Judge Rae Ann French.
According to the Maine State Police, St. Peter was found dead off Campground Road in Anson on July 5, 1980. She last was seen walking in the early morning of July 5, crossing the bridge from Madison to Anson. St. Peter had a 3-year-old daughter at the time.
Although state police have not released a cause of death for St. Peter, a report in the BDN on Feb. 10, 1990, said she reportedly had a fractured skull, had been beaten severely and was run over by a vehicle. Stephen McCausland, spokesman for the Maine Department of Public Safety, would neither confirm nor deny that report.
It is the oldest murder case ever broken in the state, according McCausland.
“The state police have never stopped working on this case over the past 30 years and we’ve been pursuing it very actively in the last five years or so,” Benson said outside the courtroom.
Benson said forensic science and new technology aided in the arrest. He wouldn’t elaborate on what exactly was used.
“Science and technology changes all the time. It’s gotten better,” he said.
Benson added that “there is no indication that anyone other than Mr. Mercier was involved [in St. Peter’s murder].”
Police have not released a motive, but Cross has a theory.
“The only thing that I knew was that he was supposedly the father of the daughter that she had,” said Cross. “Nobody was going to have her except him. And that’s why I believe she was killed.”
That information couldn’t be independently verified.
The arrest has brought back many emotions for St. Peter’s family.
“It’s really, really hard on all of us,” said Cross, who didn’t give her hometown. “We’re trying to maintain and just hope that justice will be served against him for what he did.”
After so many years having passed with no one being arrested, Cross said she had lost hope that the perpetrator would be caught.
“I didn’t think anyone would be actually found, and now I know that it has and I’m really relieved of that,” said Cross.
No other family members preferred to talk to the news media.
Benson said he wants to keep Mercier at the Somerset County Jail.
“We have asked for a Harnish [bail] hearing and we will ask that his right to bail be extinguished,” said Benson.
Mercier will be arraigned on Thursday, Oct. 6, when he is expected to plead not guilty.