SKOWHEGAN — Sex may not be murder, but sex in this case proved murder over and over again, according to prosecutor Andrew Benson in his closing arguments in the Jay Mercier murder trial this morning.
The evidence that Mercier, 57, of Industry killed 20-year-old Rita St. Peter in 1980 is overwhelming, according Benson, an assistant attorney general.
“This is not a whodunnit. We know very well who did it. It was Jay Mercier. He was on the prowl and Rita St. Peter was an easy target,” Benson told jurors in Somerset County Superior Court.
Mercier is charged in the beating death of the Anson woman.
In his closing argument, defense attorney John Alsop told the jury that there is enough reasonable doubt in the 32-year-old murder of St. Peter to find his client not guilty of murder.
Sometimes in life, Alsop told the jury, “We simply don’t know the answers. This is one of those times.”
Alsop said evidence becomes lost or degrades or disappears over the years.
“The expiration date on this case is an issue,” he said.
Somerset County Superior Court Justice John Nivison gave his final instructions to the jury just before noon today. Two jury alternates were released from duty, leaving seven women and five men to determine guilt or innocence.
Mercier faces 25 years to life in prison if he is found guilty.
Defense attorneys Alsop and John Martin rested their case in Somerset County Superior Court Wednesday after they called six witnesses. Mercier did not testify.
The prosecution concluded its case earlier in the morning.
Witnesses for the defense testified that they saw the victim, Rita St. Peter, on July 4, 1980, and 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 been drinking, but he never saw Mercier and St. Peter together.
Another witness, Roxanne Collins, told the jury that she and her husband saw 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.
Earlier testimony for the prosecution indicated that when police found St. Peter’s body, her jeans were ripped.
William Garland of Anson testified that the area where St. Peter’s body was 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 is 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 that 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.”
Assistant Attorney General Andrew Benson, who is prosecuting the case, disagreed with Alsop’s characterization of the evidence.
“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, prosecutors tried to paint Mercier as the man who sexually assaulted her, beat her with something similar to a tire iron, then ran her over with his pickup truck.
St. Peter’s body was found on July 5, 1980, on a dirt track off Campground Road in Anson. She was last seen on 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 around the same time. Tire marks photographed at the murder scene appeared to match inked prints taken from Mercier’s truck tires the day the body was discovered.
Prosecutors also linked DNA samples from Mercier with samples taken from St. Peter’s body.
Morning Sentinel Staff Writer Doug Harlow can be contacted at 612-2367 or at: