SKOWHEGAN — From when he was first accused right up to the weeks leading to his arrest last year for the murder of 20-year-old Rita St. Peter in 1980, Jay Mercier maintained his innocence.

In recorded interviews with State Police Detective Bryant Jacques in 2010 played in court on Tuesday, Mercier stuck to the story he has told ever since he became a suspect in the murder 32 years ago: He did not know St. Peter, had never met her, had never picked her up in his truck and never had sex with her.

He kept to the story, even when confronted with DNA evidence pointed to his having had sexual contact with St. Peter.

In one of three taped interviews with Jacques played Tuesday, Mercier could be heard saying that if he dies in the coming months, he has one request:

“If you see my obit in the paper, do not put it in the paper that the (Rita St. Peter) case is closed,” Mercier, 57, said. “I’ve told you everything I know.”

In one of the interviews, Jacques challenged Mercier’s statement that he didn’t know St. Peter.

“There’s absolutely no doubt you had some contact with Rita St. Peter,” Jacques told Mercier in an interview recorded in November 2010 at Mercier’s home in Industry. “There’s got to be an explanation because both things can’t be true.”

St. Peter was last seen alive around midnight July 4, 1980, walking toward the bridge over the Kennebec River connecting Madison and Anson. She had been at a Fourth of July party and stopped at the Depot Tavern in Madison for a drink before heading home to Anson.

Prosecutors say Mercier, now 57, sexually assaulted with St. Peter, beat her with something like a tire iron, then ran her over with his truck.

In testimony Tuesday before Justice John Nivison in Somerset County Superior Court, Jacques said he took over investigation of the St. Peter murder case in 2005. He said later that year he worked with Alicia Wilcox, a former technician at the State Police Crime Lab, to develop a plan to break the state’s longest running cold-case homicide.

“There was a ‘to do’ list created,” Jacques said Tuesday. “We wanted to get together to see what we had.”

What police had against Mercier were tire markings from Mercier’s pickup truck that corresponded with photographs taken of tire tracks near St. Peter’s body. There also were glass slides with fluid samples taken from St. Peter’s body during her autopsy in 1980.

In 2009, the crime lab identified sperm cells in the fluid samples.

The problem with Jacques’ to do list, Skowhegan attorneys John Alsop and John Martin told the court, was that investigative methods in 1980 and in subsequent years were not up to modern standards. They said some evidence was missing, including a comb and some photographs and there was no conclusive evidence that the truck tires matched.

Notebooks and paperwork from previous detectives had not been passed on to new investigators and some of the police officers and witnesses have died, making the case more difficult to prove, they said. Martin added that DNA from two other unidentified men also was found in St. Peter.

He said there even was some debate if St. Peter’s body had been run over, Martin said.

Jacques took the first of what would be three trips to Industry to talk with Mercier in January 2010. He said they talked about where Mercier’s truck was parked when he got home in the early morning of July 5, 1980, and that the Depot Tavern, where St. Peter had stopped, had been torn down.

Following that first interview, Jacques said he put on gloves and picked up a butt from a cigarette Mercier had just smoked and put it in a paper container.

When analysis showed that Mercier’s DNA on the cigarette butt matched that taken from St. Peter’s body, Jacques returned to the Mercier home for a more conclusive sample. The swab of saliva taken from Mercier’s mouth also matched the DNA found on St. Peter and led to his arrest on the murder charge.

Two witnesses told the jury last week they had seen Mercier in his truck outside the bar around the same time. Mercier’s defense team has said that because Mercier lived a few blocks from the bar, it would not be unusual that he would be seen in downtown Madison.

The state’s chief medical examiner testified Monday that St. Peter died as a result of blunt impact injury to the head and chest, based on the 1980 autopsy performed by Henry Ryan, chief medical examiner at the time.

In court on Monday, Kathy MacMillan, a forensic DNA analyst with the state police crime lab, told the jury of nine women and five men, including two alternates, that Mercier’s DNA matched samples taken from St. Peter’s body.

Alsop and Martin have told the jury that DNA evidence may prove that Mercier and St. Peter had sex, but it doesn’t prove he killed her.

The trial is scheduled to resume this morning.

Doug Harlow — 612-2367

[email protected]

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