TRAVERSE CITY -- Jason Anthony Ryan, newly charged in the 1996 rape and murder of Kalkaska resident Geraldine Montgomery, is no stranger to the criminal justice system.
Ryan, 35, built a criminal record that dates to his days as a juvenile, and increasingly had brushes with the law as an adult. He spent the years between 1998 and 2003 behind prison bars.
Authorities connected Ryan to Montgomery's slaying after new DNA tests placed him at the scene of the crime.
Detectives revisited the case after they were approached by officials with an organization called the Innocence Project on behalf of Jamie Lee Peterson, the man who originally was convicted of and imprisoned for the crime.
Details of Ryan’s youth aren't yet clear, but his brief placement in an alternative high school in Kalkaska speaks to a troubled adolescence.
Members of the Innocence Project said Ryan attended Flint Central High School and then dropped out, but the then-teen made an appearance at the Northside Educational Center in 1995, though he did not graduate. The Kalkaska school is an alternative high school for students who struggle in the main high school.
“(They’re) basically kids that are having trouble functioning in a traditional high school,” Northside principal Brian Harbour said. “A lot of our kids are homeless, a lot are in trouble with the law.”
Police interviewed Ryan about Montgomery's slaying as part of the original investigation, but he denied knowing anything about the incident, said Bob Carey, Peterson's original defense attorney.
A few months later, Ryan was arrested for a driving violation, and police, as a matter of routine, again asked him about the case, Carey said.
Ryan was given two polygraph tests, and after the first was inconclusive the second indicated he was not guilty, Carey said. Police took a sample of Ryan's saliva at the time but never tested it for a potential match to evidence left at the Montgomery crimes scene.