SKOWHEGAN — Jay Mercier was sentenced Friday to 70 years in prison for the murder 32 years ago of Rita St. Peter of Anson.
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.
He added 10 years to the sentence in the second stage of the analysis because of the impact on St. Peter’s friends and family.
“There was permanent loss and pain, compounded by 30 years of uncertainty,” Nivison said, noting Mercier’s lack of remorse and not taking responsibility for the crime.
Mercier’s defense team had asked for a sentence of between 25 and 40 years in prison. The sentence can be appealed.
Mercier denied killing St. Peter, who was 20 when she was last seen walking across the bridge that connects Madison and Anson late on the night of July 4, 1980.
Her bloody and battered body was found the following morning on a field trail off Campground Road in Anson.
Mercier had sexually assaulted St. Peter, beat her with something like a tire iron, then ran her over with his truck, according to prosecutors.
The tire iron was never found, but tire tread evidence from Mercier’s pickup truck matched photographed tire treads at the scene.
DNA evidence taken from St. Peter’s body also matched Mercier’s DNA. He had been a suspect all along.
In 2005, State Police Detective Bryant Jacques visited Mercier at his home and picked up a butt of a cigarette Mercier had just finished smoking.
Lab tests on the cigarette revealed a DNA profile that matched DNA samples taken from St. Peter. Jacques later used the evidence to get a search warrant for a swab of Mercier’s mouth for a more conclusive sample.
Doug Harlow — 612-2367