The former Industry man sentenced in 2012 to 70 years in prison for the murder of Rita St. Peter in 1980 has been assigned a new lawyer by the court — his third — in his bid for post-conviction review.

Jay Mercier, 61, is challenging his murder conviction, saying there were flaws in the delivery of evidence during his trial and that his court-appointed attorneys since he was convicted in 2012 did not assist him adequately in appealing his case. Mercier even points a finger at another man, whom he said dated St. Peter at the time of her death and who since has moved to another state, as the person who killed her.

Post-conviction review comes after an unsuccessful appeal and is usually the last resort.

Defense attorney George Hess of Auburn has been assigned to represent Mercier in the review. In an email, Hess said he is new to the case and wasn’t yet comfortable to comment on it.

Assistant Attorney General Lara Nomani was unavailable this week to discuss the case.

Mercier and the attorneys are scheduled for a telephone pretrial conference at 3 p.m. Sept. 19.

Mercier’s appeal was denied by the Maine Supreme Judicial Court in 2014. Another appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court to return the case to the lower court also was denied.

The St. Peter murder was the oldest cold case on the books in Maine until Mercier was arrested in September 2011. Mercier was found guilty in a jury trial in Somerset County Superior Court in September 2012.

Mercier denied killing St. Peter, who was 20 when she was last seen walking across the bridge over the Kennebec River 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. Sex assault charges were never brought against Mercier, a point he raises in his request for post-conviction review.

Trying a case that was decades old had its challenges, Assistant Attorney General Andrew Benson, now a District Court judge, said after the verdict.

“Many pieces of evidence were lost, but in this case, fortunately, all the most important pieces of evidence remained and that was very important to the jury,” Benson said. “Because of the age of the case it was a difficult trial.”

The pieces of evidence that were lost are at the heart of Mercier’s post-conviction review. He says there are photos from the crime scene that are missing and that “blood spatter” evidence was never introduced in his defense.

Mercier contends that there were items of clothing that were either soaked in blood or had blood on them at the scene and were not properly examined. He says there may have been other DNA evidence with genetic material from someone other than him also at the scene.

He offers alternative theories in documents filed in Somerset County Superior Court in Skowhegan, including that St. Peter was urinating next to a motor vehicle that ran her over and a second one, apparently unrelated, that a boyfriend at the time confessed to killing her. He doesn’t say what the man, who now lives out of state, confessed to or offer other details.

Mercier also contends that there was “some sort of paint” or other material on or inside St. Peter’s skull that was never identified. He also notes that Benson improperly influenced the jury by repeatedly showing images of St. Peter’s body.

He also says she was not sexually assaulted.

The tire iron-like weapon Mercier was said to have used to kill St. Peter 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.

Mercier had been a suspect from the beginning, but the case had hit a dead end. In 2005, Maine State Police Detective Bryant Jacques and Maine State Police Crime Lab forensic analyst Alicia Wilcox began their investigation of the cold case.

When DNA was extracted in 2009 from sperm cells found in biological evidence taken in 1980 from St. Peter’s body, Jacques established contact with Mercier through a series of casual conversations at Mercier’s home, according to Law Court documents from his appeal. In January 2010 after one of these conversations, Jacques collected a cigarette butt that Mercier had discarded on the side of the road. The DNA obtained from Mercier’s cigarette butt matched that found on St. Peter’s body. Jacques later used the evidence to get a search warrant for a swab of Mercier’s mouth for a more conclusive sample.

Mercier was arrested in September 2011.

Tire impressions taken from the scene in 1980 also were consistent with the unusual tires Mercier had on his vehicle at the time, according to documents.

Doug Harlow — 612-2367

[email protected]


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