SKOWHEGAN — Prosecutors introduced graphic photos of the body of Rita St. Peter as evidence this morning in the murder trial of Jay Mercier of Industry.
The photos, showing St. Peter’s bloody, partially clad body, came during the first day of testimony in the July 1980 killing of St. Peter, who was 20.
Mercier, 57, is accused of beating the young women to death with something similar to a tire iron and then driving over her body with his pickup truck. He has pleaded not guilty to the charge.
Prosecutors also say Mercier sexually assaulted her.
Assistant Attorney General Andrew Benson called for the photos to be shown to the jury under direct examination of former Game Warden James Ross who, with then-state Trooper Barry DeLong, were the first law enforcement officers to arrive at the scene off Campground Road in Anson.
St. Peter was last seen leaving a tavern in Madison late July 4, 1980. Mercier also was seen in the area by witnesses at about the same time, Benson said.
Mercier was interviewed by DeLong, now sheriff of Somerset County, the next day, Benson said, and tire prints from his truck were printed and kept as evidence.
Benson said semen taken from St. Peter’s body also was stored as evidence for 25 years, before modern forensic investigation procedures could identify DNA. Mercier’s DNA later was matched to that found with St. Peter from samples taken by state police, leading to the murder charge, he said.
The trial continues this afternoon and is expected to last into next week.
SKOWHEGAN — A jury of nine women and five men, including two alternates, was chosen Wednesday in the murder trial of an Industry man charged with killing 20-year-old Rita St. Peter in Anson 32 years ago.
Jay S. 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.
The trial begins at 9 a.m. today. Superior Court Justice John Nivison is hearing the case.
The 7 1/2-hour jury selection process Wednesday started with a pool of about 100 potential jurors. Later, after public and private interviews with the judge, prosecutors and defense attorneys, the pool was cut to 37, then to the final 14.
The final jury will comprise 12 people. The two alternates will be released once closing arguments are completed.
Trial jurors range in age from those appearing to be in their 20s, to others in their 50s and 60s. Jurors’ names were not announced Wednesday by the court as a matter of security until after a verdict is reached.
Names of potential jurors were randomly selected from a computerized, state data bank. Each person was summoned to serve on the jury under Maine law.
Members of the initial jury pool were shown a short film in the courtroom Wednesday morning about the judicial process, noting the right of all Americans to be tried by a jury of their peers.
“It’s a very human process,” the movie’s narrator said. “It will live and breathe here in the courtroom, not in some dusty, leather-bound book.”
Jurors are paid a small stipend per day. Employers have the option of paying workers on jury duty, but are not obliged.
“This isn’t a job, it’s a duty,” the narrator stated. “You can’t put a price on that.”
In the first round of questions for jurors Wednesday, Nivison posed general questions, asking if anyone knew the lawyers, the prosecutors or the investigations. Nivison then asked if any potential juror knew St. Peter or her family or knew Mercier or any other potential witnesses.
The questioning is meant to identify bias, conflict of interest or personal connection to the principals in the case to ensure an impartial jury and a fair outcome, Nivison said.
One man, appearing to be in his 50s, said he knew St. Peter, her niece, Mercier, and other residents of the Anson-Madison area who may be called as witnesses. He said he saw Mercier a couple of days before police found St. Peter’s battered body on July 5. The man later was pulled from the jury pool and did not return to the courtroom.
Following the general questioning, Nivison distributed questionnaires to each potential juror. Once the paperwork was completed it was collected and reviewed by the judge and the lawyers.
During the private session of questions, potential jurors were called by number, one by one, to meet with Nivison in chambers. Joining them were the prosecutors, assistant attorneys general Andrew Benson and Laura Nomani and defense lawyers John Alsop and John Martin, both of Skowhegan.
The group conferred in chambers and finally at the judge’s bench in sidebar discussion to complete the final list of jurors.
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.
While there is evidence of sexual contact, Alsop questioned whether there is evidence showing when the contact took place.
Alsop previously has said that he wants to know why the tire impression evidence was not completed until 25 years after the crime.
Mercier remains held without bail at the Somerset County Jail in East Madison. He faces 25 years to life in prison if convicted.
Doug Harlow — 612-2367