TRAVERSE CITY — A man convicted of the murder and rape of a Kalkaska resident is asking for a retrial after newly analyzed DNA found at the scene failed to match him to the crime.
In 1998, Jamie Lee Peterson, now 39, was convicted of raping and killing Geraldine Montgomery in 1996. Montgomery, 68, was found dead of asphyxiation after being raped and stuffed in her car trunk with the vehicle's engine running.
Peterson offered several, varied confessions to the crimes, but one of the two samples of DNA found at the scene didn't match him. The other sample was too contaminated to test with 1990s technology, and Peterson was prosecuted on a two-perpetrator theory.
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 took up the case last year and had the two DNA samples retested. Both came up as a match for Jason Anthony Ryan, 35, of Davison, near Flint.
Ryan was in Kalkaska at the time of Montgomery's death and was interrogated by police about the incident at that time, though he wasn't charged. He was arraigned on Dec. 3 after the DNA match came to light.
Peterson's lawyers filed a motion today to retry him now, since none of the DNA points to him.
“The DNA evidence shows two things that are really important,” said Caitlin Plummer, an attorney at the Michigan Innocence Clinic at the University of Michigan who’s representing Peterson. “One is that all of the physical evidence at the scene excludes Jamie Peterson and two is that it all matches the same person, Jason Ryan, who our client has no connection to.”
Peterson’s confession was false, his attorneys contend.
“His confessions were inconsistent among themselves and they were inconsistent with the known facts,” Plummer said. “If he’d been confessing truthfully, you’d think he would be able to get the facts right. But he got them wrong, repeatedly.”
Peterson's lawyers also say Peterson was able to glean information about the murder from the way police worded their questions.
“Certain facts were fed to Mr. Peterson in the confessions,” Plummer said.
In 2002, his attorneys filed a motion to retest the DNA found. The motion was rejected because then-circuit court Judge Alton Davis ruled that the DNA evidence was immaterial and no new technology was available at the time.
“The prosecution in 1996 knew the DNA evidence didn’t match the defendant. His case was based on confessions,” said Mike Perreault, the Kalkaska County Prosecuting Attorney.
Perreault didn't want to speculate on the new motion until he'd had time to examine it.
Plummer said if the Kalkaska court rejects Peterson's motion, he will appeal.