SKOWHEGAN — Closing arguments are expected Thursday in the murder trial of Jay Mercier of Industry, the man charged in the beating death of an Anson woman 32 years ago.
Defense attorneys John Alsop and John Martin rested their case after they called six witnesses Wednesday morning. Mercier did not tesitfy. The prosecution concluded its case earlier in the morning.
Witnesses for the defense testified that they saw homicide victim Rita St. Peter on July 4, 1980, that she had been drinking at a bar in downtown Madison and by late that night was highly intoxicated.
Robert Jacobs of Anson, testified that he also saw Mercier, who had also been drinking, that night, but he never saw Mercier and St. Peter together.
Another witness, Roxanne Collins, told the jury that she and her husband had seen St. Peter at the bar and that St. Peter’s jeans were ripped up the back seam and she needed a sweatshirt to cover up. Testimony for the prosecution was that when police found St. Peter’s jeans at the crime scene, they were ripped.
William Garland of Anson testified that the area where St. Peter’s body had been found was a popular party spot that local residents called the passion pit.
Wednesday afternoon, with the jury out of the room, Alsop made a motion for acquittal, which he noted was common in criminal cases, but different in Mercier’s trial, because it is a 32-year-old murder case.
“There are no safeguards against lost records, lost evidence and lost memories,” Alsop said. “We have to be doubly sure the evidence is reliable.”
Alsop said DNA evidence produced in the case may show that Mercier had sex with St. Peter, but there is no evidence that Mercier killed her.
Mercier was a suspect from the beginning, but consistently denied killing St. Peter. He also denied ever having known her, denied giving her a ride in his truck and denied having sex with her, despite the fact his DNA was found on her.
“Can a jury convict someone of murder based on his denial of sexual activity?” Alsop asked. “They cannot conclude that he denied having sex with her, so he therefore murdered her.”
He said the tire evidence in the trial was based on flawed investigative techniques, even to the point of showing the tire marks could easily have been made by a truck other than Mercier’s.
Assistant Attorney General Andrew Benson, who is prosecuting the case, said he disagreed with Alsop’s characterization of the evidence in the case.
“Common sense says Jay Mercier caused the death of Rita St. Peter,” Benson said. “Jay Mercier is misleading police because he killed her. I don’t think it’s even close.”
Justice John Nivison denied the motion for acquittal and said the prosecution provided sufficient evidence for the case to go to the jury.
Through five days of often graphic testimony and crime scene photos of St. Peter’s body, state prosecutors attempted to paint Mercier as the man who sexually assaulted, beat her with something similar to a tire iron, then ran her over with his pickup truck.
St. Peter’s body was found July 5, 1980, on a dirt track off Campground Road in Anson. She was last seen the night of July 4, leaving the Depot Tavern in downtown Madison, intoxicated, and walking over the nearby bridge to Anson.
Witnesses place Mercier, 57, near the tavern at about the same time. Tire marks photographed at the murder scene appeared to match inked tire prints taken from Mercier’s truck the day the body was discovered by a boy training his father’s pulling horses.
Prosecutors also linked DNA samples from Mercier with samples taken from St. Peter’s body.
In closing arguments in Somerset County Superior Court today, lawyers from both sides of the trial will summarize what they think are the most important points of the trial. The judge will then give the jury instructions and they will move to the jury room, off the main courtroom, for deliberations.
Twelve members of the jury will decide the case based on the evidence presented during the trial. The two alternate jurors will be released from duty.
Mercier faces 25 years to life in prison if he is convicted of murder.
Doug Harlow — 612-2367