State, defense rest in cold-case murder trial

Posted Sept. 26, 2012, at 1:03 p.m.
Last modified Sept. 27, 2012, at 1:41 p.m.

SKOWHEGAN, Maine — Both the state and defense rested their cases in the murder trial of Jay S. Mercier of Industry on Wednesday afternoon.

Mercier is being tried in the murder of Rita St. Peter, whose body was found off Campground Road in Anson on July 5, 1980. Wednesday marked the fifth day of the trial at Somerset County Superior Court.

One of Mercier’s attorneys, John Alsop of Skowhegan, asked for an acquittal Wednesday, arguing that the prosecution had not presented enough evidence for a murder conviction.

Mercier has stuck to his story for the past 32 years that he had never met St. Peter, even though his DNA was matched to semen on a rectal swab taken from the victim.

“Can a jury convict someone of murder based on someone’s denial of sexual activity?” Alsop asked Superior Court Justice John Nivison in seeking the acquittal.

Alsop also said that because the tire marks measured at the scene were 9 inches across, and the tire ink imprints done on Mercier’s truck back in 1980 were between 7 and 8 inches in width, there’s no proof that Mercier’s tires were at the scene during the night of the murder.

“It seems if they ruled out anyone [for the murder], it’s Jay Mercier,” said Alsop.

Assistant Attorney General Andrew Benson, who is prosecuting for the state, had none of Alsop’s argument.

“Common sense shows that Jay Mercier caused the death of Rita St. Peter,” said Benson.

Benson pointed out that the only sperm found on St. Peter’s battered body belonged to Mercier. He also said that measurements at crime scenes must be treated as approximate and not exact.

“He hangs his entire acquittal on the tire impression on the width of 9 inches,” said Benson.

The evidence, Benson said, points to Mercier as the killer.

“It’s overwhelming that Mercier killed St. Peter, either knowingly or unintentionally,” he said.

However, Alsop said the state must prove the tires belonged on Mercier’s truck in order to prove the rest of the crime.

After hearing both sides, Nivison denied Alsop’s request for acquittal. The defense attorney and prosecutor will present their closing arguments Thursday morning, before the jury is asked to decide Mercier’s guilt or innocence.

During Wednesday morning’s portion of the trial, Maine State Police Detective Adam Kelley testified about his involvement in the case. Kelley assisted fellow Detective Bryant Jacques in interviewing Mercier outside Mercier’s home in Industry in 2010 and 2011.

“He gave conflicting answers [about having previously been to the spot where St. Peter’s body was found],” said Kelley.

Kelley said he and Jacques kept interviewing Mercier in an effort to get at the truth.

“I wanted to give him every opportunity to give information I believe he had but never shared,” said Kelley.

After Kelley’s testimony was finished, Benson rested the state’s case. Alsop then presented six defense witnesses. Many of them knew either St. Peter or Mercier and were in the area on the night of July 4, 1980.

Witnesses who remembered seeing St. Peter that night said she was intoxicated while at the Depot, a bar in Madison. Two witnesses also remembered that St. Peter had a sweater covering a rip in her pants.

Alsop asked each witness if they remembered what was going on at the paper mill during July 1980. All said it was under construction with many construction workers in the area at the time.

Witness John Henry, 58, said more than 100 construction workers were in town.

William Garland, who was 36 in 1980, said the spot where St. Peter was found was known as the Passion Pit, due to its reputation for sexual activity.

Closing arguments will begin at 9 a.m. Thursday.

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