SKOWHEGAN, Maine — The Industry man convicted of murdering Rita St. Peter of Anson 32 years ago was sentenced to 70 years in prison by Justice John Nivison in Somerset County Superior Court on Friday morning.
Jay Mercier, 57, was convicted Sept. 27 of the July 4, 1980, murder of the 20-year-old St. Peter, a young mother whose battered body was found off Campground Road in North Anson the next day.
Mercier showed no reaction after Nivison handed down his sentence.
St. Peter’s friends and family were jubilant after hearing the sentence.
“Jay Mercier has done this and he deserves what he got,” said Maxine Cross, St. Peter’s sister.
“There is closure, but there will always be pain,” she said. “It takes a long time to get over this. It’s been 32 years, and he’s had his life free. She never got to live.”
Cross was the only member of St. Peter’s friends or family who attended the hearing who agreed to be interviewed.
Maine Assistant Attorney General Andrew Benson asked Nivison to give Mercier a sentence of life in prison, while Mercier’s attorney, John Martin of Skowhegan, asked for a sentence between 25 and 40 years.
“I think it’s a perfectly appropriate sentence,” said Benson outside the courtroom. “It obviously shows that Justice Nivison considered the death-producing conduct at the very high extreme range” of his sentencing options.
Maine State Police Detective Bryant Jacques said outside the courtroom that he was happy with the sentence. Jacques was handed the cold case in 2005 and, with the help of a discarded cigarette butt, helped get DNA evidence to link Mercier to St. Peter’s slaying.
Benson said Mercier will likely spend at least 40 years in prison because of the possibility of his earning good time.
“There is, under Maine law, something called good time, which means you don’t serve the full amount of your sentence,” Benson said. “He’ll probably serve somewhere between 55 and 60 percent of his sentence. With that being said, with 70 years, he’ll still serve probably 40 years in prison. Which means it’s extremely unlikely, if not almost impossible, that he’ll ever be released from prison.”
According to testimony during the trial in September, St. Peter was visibly drunk while walking home on the Fourth of July in 1980. Mercier picked St. Peter up in his pickup.
St. Peter was eventually beaten over the head with a blunt instrument and her body was run over by Mercier’s truck.
Although it wasn’t introduced at the trial because of the statute of limitations, Benson argued Friday that Mercier sexually assaulted St. Peter, and that should be an aggravating factor for increasing Mercier’s sentence.
“The evidence very strongly suggests a sexual assault,” Benson said in his sentencing argument.
Martin argued that there was no way to prove that the sexual contact was anything other than consensual.
Nivison said he considered many aggravating factors, including a domestic violence assault charge against Mercier in 2003 that involved his now ex-wife, the effect of St. Peter’s death on her family and Mercier’s refusal to accept responsibility or express remorse.
Nivison asked if Mercier had a statement he would like to give the court.
“No. No, sir,” he said.
Emotion ran high as several of St. Peter’s relatives and friends gave statements to Nivison.
Each asked the judge to impose a life sentence.
Laura Gallant, a victim’s advocate for the attorney general’s office, read a statement prepared by St. Peter’s daughter Terri Foulkes. Foulkes was 2 years old when St. Peter was murdered.
“An innocent child is stripped of the only mother she knows,” Gallant read from Foulkes’ statement. “You took my mother away and never looked back.”
“I cannot fathom how one person could [kill] another human being and live on as if nothing happened,” she continued. “I hope my mother can live in peace knowing you can’t harm anyone else.”
“I can never forgive this horrible crime,” said Christine Belanger, St. Peter’s adoptive sister. “I pray you have no pity on him.”
After Nivison handed down his sentence, he commended St. Peter’s family and friends for their “perseverance and devotion to Rita.”