Jay Mercier Guilty In 32-Year-Old Murder Trial – Family Overjoyed and Relieved
Jay Mercier is guilty. That’s the verdict of a jury in Skowhegan, and the words Rita St. Peter’s family had waited 32 years to hear. Mercier was on trial for sexually assaulting and murdering St. Peter and dumping her body on a desolate road in North Anson 32 years ago. “Well, we were just hoping that we were still gonna be alive to see this day. We are in our sixties. Well, my husband and me,” said St. Peter’s sister Christine Belangia. I was always worried that I want to be alive to see this day, and it has been a wonderful day.”As the family gathered outside the courthouse in Skowhegan they had a special thank you, and perhaps a the biggest hug of all, for Maine State Police Detective Bryant Jacques. It was Jacques who led the investigation into the cold case. “He’s wonderful. Just awesome,” family members said amidst hugs on the courthouse steps.. It was the tireless efforts of Jacques and other investigators that eventually brought Rita St. Peter’s killer to justice. During an interview with Mercier at his Industry home back in 2011, Detective Jacques noticed Mercier had smoked four cigarettes and discarded one on the ground. “I put a pair of gloves on, picked up the cigarette butt, put it in a bag and left,” Jacques told the jury.He then delivered the cigarette butt to the Maine State Police Crime Lab in Augusta where DNA analayst Kathy MacMillan analyzed it. MacMillan testified Monday the DNA profile from the cigarette butt was consistent with the DNA profile identified from the bodily fluids taken off the body of Rita St. Peter during the 1980 autopsy. State Police investigators later swabbed Mercier’s cheek to get a known sample of his DNA and that, too, was matched to the bodily fluids taken from the victim.Mercier was the prime suspect in the case since the beginning. The case proved to be challenging for prosecutors as it combined evidence gathered in 1980, using the investigative techniques of the time, with modern day forensic science. “As you heard from closing arguments, obviously many pieces of evidence were lost. But in this case all the most important pieces of evidence remained,” Deputy Attorney General Andrew Benson said after the verdict was read.It was evidence that included bodily fluids collected in 1980 that have now been proven to be a DNA match to Mercier, which proved Mercier has been lying to police about this case for 32 years. “I think you have to ask yourself the question, if you weren’t involved in this, why are you covering up for 32 years? Particularly when in 1980 when there was no DNA and he couldn’t have been worried about DNA,” Benson said. It took only around three hours for the jury to reach their verdict. Defense attorney John Alsop told jurors the state’s case was weak. He said the case was too old and likened it to medication with an expiration date. The guilty verdict comes despite the fact many witnesses have passed away, evidence has been lost, and memories weren’t exactly crisp. “Well it was a well-tried case. We tried to put in all the reasonable doubt we thought there was in the case and unfortunately the jury went in the other direction,” Alsop said.Tire impressions found and photographed at the crime scene more than three decades ago were the key to the prosecution’s case. With no murder weapon, that was the only thing linking Mercier to the crime scene. “I always thought the case would come down to the width of the tire impressions left at the scene,” Benson said. “I thought that for months and ultimately I thought Mr. Alsop (Mercier’s defense attorney) would hit on that and rely on that in his closing argument and he did.”But the day was about justice for Rita St. Peter and closure for her family. “She would think it was wonderful, she knows that it is. I know she’s up there somewhere just smiling,” Belangia said. “Justice has prevailed for Rita St. Peter in 2012.”Sentencing for Mercier could happen as soon as November. For now he remains in custody at the Somerset County Jail.