TRAVERSE CITY — Jamie Lee Peterson was sentenced to life in prison after he confessed to the murder and rape of a Kalkaska resident in 1998, but now, more than 15 years later, that conviction could be reversed.
Peterson, now 39, confessed to the crimes against Geraldine Montgomery, 68, who was found dead of asphyxiation after being raped and stuffed in her car trunk with the vehicle’s engine running in 1996.
But Peterson’s former defense attorney Robert Carey never shook the feeling that Peterson, who had a history of mental illness and was prone to creating vivid fantasies, was wrongly convicted. He also thought that none of the physical evidence at the scene — two samples of DNA, one too contaminated to test — pointed to his client.
The second sample recently was retested with new technology, and now no DNA evidence places Peterson at the scene of the crime. Forty-Sixth Circuit Court Judge Janet Allen will hear an argument to retry Peterson next week.
If she decides in Peterson’s favor, his conviction will be overturned and he could either be released or retried.
“We would evaluate that at that time,” said Kalkaska County Prosecutor Mike Perreault.
Carey helped put the Petersons in touch with new lawyers at the Michigan Innocence Clinic at the University of Michigan Law School and the Center on Wrongful Convictions at the Northwestern School of Law, who decided to take up the case and work to get Peterson exonerated.
“We decided to take on the case because we know that false confessions are a problem. Twenty-five percent of DNA exonerations involve false confessions,” said Caitlin Plummer, an attorney who represents Peterson. “We knew this was a case where more DNA testing could exonerate Mr. Peterson.”
Both DNA samples were found to match another man, Jason Anthony Ryan, 36, of Davison, who is scheduled to go to trial in December.
Peterson’s hearing is scheduled for 2:30 p.m on July 9.