December 7, 2012

Mercier sentenced to 70 years for 1980 killing of Anson woman

Friends, family of Rita St. Peter are satisfied with result, although actual time served might be only 40 years

By Doug Harlow
Staff Writer

SKOWHEGAN -- Jay Mercier was sentenced Friday to 70 years in prison for the murder 32 years ago of Rita St. Peter of Anson.

click image to enlarge

Jay Mercier reacts after being sentenced to 70 years in prison for the 1980 murder of Rita St. Peter, at the Somerset County Superior Court House in Skowhegan on Friday.

Staff photo by Michael G. Seamans

click image to enlarge

Laurie Ann Robbins, left, and Christine Belangia, center, comfort Terri Foulkes, right, daughter of murder victim Rita St. Peter, outside the Somerset County Superior Court House in Skowhegan, after the sentencing of Jay Mercier for the 1980 murder of Rita St. Peter on Friday. Belangia was St. Peter's sister; Robbins was a friend.

Staff photo by Michael G. Seamans

Additional Photos Below


From a 1990 Law Court case called State v. Shortsleeves.

1) Premeditation-in-fact

2) Multiple deaths

3) Murder committed by a person who has previously been convicted of homicide or any other crime involving the use of deadly force against a person

4) Murder accompanied by torture, sexual abuse or other extreme cruelty inflicted upon the victim

5) Murder committed in a penal institution by an inmate of that institution

6) Murder of a law enforcement officer in the performance of his or her duties

7) Murder of a hostage

Justice John Nivison said he could not impose a life sentence on Mercier, of Industry, because it did not meet standards of extreme cruelty, torture or premeditation set by the state in 1990.

Mercier was arrested Sept. 28, 2011, and charged with murder.

Friends and members of St. Peter's family said they were satisfied with the sentence, even after being told that the state good time rules in place in 1980 mean Mercier, 57, could serve about 40 years. Good time is earned by a prison inmate each month for keeping to the prison rules and not getting in trouble.

"It's going to be life for him either way because he's 50-something years old now, he'll never make it out," said St. Peter's sister, Christine Belangia, of Weld. "It's good. We're happy."

Another sister, Maxine Cross, of Skowhegan, agreed, but said she was bothered that Mercier never admitted to the murder or showed any emotion during his trial.

"That's what I don't understand -- why doesn't he have any apology? No remorse, no nothing," Cross said outside the courthouse. "There was closure, but there will always be pain. It's been 32 years and he's had his life free and she never got to live hers."

St. Peter's daughter, Terri Foulkes, of Norridgewock, said the difference of Mercier being in his 90s when he is eligible to be released as opposed to 127 makes little difference.

"It wasn't going to make it either way," she said. "It's been a long time, but it's finally come."

Allowed to address the judge inside the courtroom Friday morning, Foulkes, who was 2 when her mother was killed, said in a statement read by a victim's advocate, "You took my mother away and all the good times growing up.

"Do I laugh like her? Do I look like her? Do I smile the same?"

Assistant Attorney General Andrew Benson, who prosecuted the case, said state rules that were in place when St. Peter was killed had to be applied in the Mercier sentencing.

"There was a decision made back in the mid-80s by the Legislature and the governor to increase good time because of jail overcrowding issues," Benson said. "That decision was retroactive back to the date of Mr. Mercier's offense."

Under those guidelines, Mercier will have to serve 55-60 percent of his sentence, Benson said. Under current good time rules, a prison inmate now would serve 85 percent of his sentence.

A jury of seven women and five men found Mercier guilty of murder in September after four days of testimony.

He faced 25 years to a maximum life in prison.

In the courtroom Friday, Nivison said he had to use an analysis for sentencing established by the Maine Supreme Judicial Court to determine the period of prison time. The judge had to weigh the severity of the crime itself and look at other sentences handed down in Maine for similar offenses.

Nivison said that while a sexual encounter had occurred between Mercier and St. Peter, there was no evidence of it being an unwanted assault. A sex assault charge was not brought when Mercier was arrested because the statute of limitations had expired. There is no time limit for murder.

The judge also had to weigh the nature of the murder -- was it extreme cruelty tantamount to torture -- and whether St. Peter was conscious when Mercier drove his truck over her body.

Basing his ruling on the murder itself and on other similar cases in Maine, Nivison set the basic time of incarceration at 60 years.

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

click image to enlarge

Christine Belangia, right, hugs Laurie Ann Robbins, left, following the sentencing of Jay Mercier at the Somerset County Superior Court House in Skowhegan on Friday.

Staff photo by Michael G. Seamans


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