Tuesday, May 21, 2013
SKOWHEGAN — Opening statements in the Jay Mercier murder trial this morning focused on the DNA evidence in the death 32 years ago of Rita St. Peter.
Rita St. Peter in an undated file photo. She was 20 at the time of her death when her body was found off the Campground Road in Anson on July 5, 1980.
Assistant Attorney General Andrew Benson told jurors in Somerset Superior Court that new evidence from improved forensic technology will prove Mercier’s guilt in the 1980 death in Anson.
“It was only 32 years ago, but it seems almost like ancient history — the dark ages,” Benson said, referring to the technology available then and now.
Defense attorney John Martin in his opening statement said that the state has had the same evidence for 32 years and it does not prove that Mercier killed St. Peter.
DNA evidence may show that Mercier and St. Peter had sex, he said, but it doesn’t prove that Mercier killed her.
The evidence showing that they had sex is not enough to bring a guilty verdict for murder, Martin said.
Mercier, 57, is accused of beating St. Peter with something similar to a tire iron and then running her over with his pickup truck in a field off Campground Road in July 1980. Police say DNA evidence taken from the murder scene matched samples taken later from Mercier.
State police investigators have said Mercier was a suspect in St. Peter’s murder from the beginning.
The day after St. Peter’s body was found, Mercier signed a consent form to allow police to search his 1980 GMC pickup truck, according to court documents.
Tire marks from Mercier’s truck were inked and printed the day after St. Peter was found, but it wasn’t until December 2005 that a forensic scientist matched the impressions to those from the crime scene, documents show.
Benson said during a bail hearing last year that there is evidence Mercier sexually assaulted St. Peter, which is how the first set of DNA samples was taken.
Mercier remains held without bail at the Somerset County Jail in East Madison. He faces 25 years to life in prison if convicted.