KALKASKA — A man convicted in a 1996 rape and murder will have to wait to see if a Kalkaska County judge finds new DNA evidence warrants a another trial.
Jamie Lee Peterson, 39, is serving a life sentence for the slaying of Geraldine Montgomery, 68, of Kalkaska, who was sexually assaulted and left in the trunk of her running car, where she died of asphyxiation.
Peterson’s attorneys argue new DNA evidence not only exonerates Peterson, but implicates another suspect, Jason Anthony Ryan, 35, of Davision.
Forty-sixth Circuit Court Judge Janet Allen said at a hearing Wednesday she needed time to craft an opinion about whether Peterson’s 1998 conviction should be reversed and a new trial set.
“I will get it out promptly as I possibly can,” she said.
Allen listened to nearly two hours of arguments from Peterson's attorneys with the Michigan Innocence Clinic and Kalkaska County Chief Assistant Prosecutor Michael Huber.
Peterson’s attorney Caitlin Plummer argued the new DNA evidence is “powerful” evidence that points away from Peterson.
Huber said DNA counted as a fraction of evidence in the original trial. He said the conviction stood on Peterson’s confessions, which included facts only the perpetrator or perpetrators would know.
“Confessions are the bricks that pave the road to convictions,” he said.
Peterson’s attorney Joshua Tepfer said oft-detailed false confessions are common in high-profile cases in which well-meaning police can unwillingly feed susceptible suspects information.
Ryan pleaded not guilty to open murder, first-degree murder and first-degree criminal sexual conduct and awaits trial in 46th Circuit Court.
The spectator-filled courtroom included members of Montgomery’s family.
“I hope he’s remanded back to jail,” said Montgomery’s daughter Patty Cox. “Nothing has changed. This is all information that came out before.”
Barbara Kay’s brother-in-law Bob Carey represented Peterson in his original trial. Kay traveled from West Virginia to see the hearing.
“I’d like to see Jamie Peterson freed,” Kay said. “I knew he was innocent from the start. I think he’s more than served his time, for nothing.”
Carey remains in touch with a man he considers innocent.
“The prosecution’s argument relies on confessions that are quite weak, frankly,” he said. “I expect the judge to grant a motion for new trial.”