The trial continues Friday for an Industry man accused of killing a woman more than three decades ago.
Jay Mercier, 56, was arrested last September for the murder of Rita St. Peter, 20. Her body was found along a road in Anson in July of 1980.
In the afternoon the prosecution called Alicia Wilcox to the stand. Wilcox spent nearly 10 years in the Maine State Crime Lab in Augusta where she analyzed the tire impression evidence in the case.
Friday, Wilcox testified that the tire impressions left at the scene where St. Peter's body was dumped in July of 1980 were consistent with the front and rear tires on the GMC truck Mercier drove back then.
The tire evidence could prove to be crucial in the case. The police never found the murder weapon and the tire impressions are the only evidence tying Mercier to the crime scene.
Tire impressions taken by now-retired Detective A.J. Carter 32 years ago who, in 1980, was a homicide investigator with the Maine State Police. Carter testified that he noticed the distinct tire tracks, took a Polaroid picture of the tracks, and put it in his shirt pocket.
Those tire impressions photographed by Carter at the scene were among the clearest impressions police found, but they never made it to evidence, thanks to William Wright, the Somerset County Sheriff in 1980. According to Ross, he found the freshest set of tire tracks at the crime scene in a section of mud and attempted to divert law enforcement around the tracks to preserve them as evidence. Then Sheriff Wright showed up on the scene. Ross testified that he asked Wright to avoid driving on the mud where the tracks were. "He said he was the high sheriff of Somerset County and he would go wherever he wanted and he drove right thought the tire tracks," Ross said.
The following day, Mercier gave police permission to search his truck and Detective Carter said he got to take a closer look at Mercier's tires. "They looked very similar to the photo I had in my pocket," Carter testified. "They were dissimilar from front to rear and I took ink impressions of all four tires." Those ink impressions were entered as evidence Thursday morning at Mercier's trial.
Friday afternoon a pair of witnesses took the stand and testified that they saw both St. Peter and Mercier in the same Main Street bar in Madison the night she was killed.
Kathleen Shagnon testified that she knew Mercier and St. Peter. Shagnon lives in Maryland now, but lived in Madison in July of 1980.
Shagnon said she was at the Depot Bar on Main Street in Madison the night St. Peter was killed. She said she saw a very drunk St. Peter walking south on Main Street. Shagnon said St. Peter was so drunk that she saw her fall down.
Shagnon said she watched Jay Mercier walk out of the Depot Bar, get in his truck, and start heading north before making a "tire-squealing, emphatic U-turn" and head south in Rita St. Peter's direction.
Deputy Attorney General Andrew Benson said modern forensics led them to charge Mercier, saying bodily fluids taken from the victim and tire impressions left at the scene languished in an evidence locker for three decades. In 2010, authorities were able to create a DNA profile from that evidence.
Police got a sample of Mercier's DNA from a cigarette butt he dropped on the ground while being interviewed by police. Using that sample, police were able to obtain a warrant to swab Mercier's cheek for a complete DNA profile, which they say matches the one created from the 1980 swabs.
The defense argues that Mercier is being charged using the same evidence police have had from the beginning.
"The fact that they now know Jay Mercier slept with Rita St. Peter and he lied about it, that's what's changed. But that's not murder ladies and gentlemen. They've had the same evidence for 32 years and they couldn't bring in Jay Mercier," said John Martin, defense attorney.
The man who discovered St. Peter's body in 1980 testified on Thursday, as did some of the law enforcement officers who worked the case.
The trial resumes on Monday.
32 Year Cold Case Murder Trial Continues