BESSEMER — Friday’s continuing trial against Kenneth Wayne Peters, 50, of Bessemer, was “unpredictable,” according to 32nd Circuit Court Judge Roy Gotham after a day of testimony at the Gogebic County Courthouse.
District attorney Richard Adams called numerous witnesses, presenting a case against Peters for allegedly murdering his wife, Ethel Grzena-Peters, 79, of Bessemer, in August 2012.
Grzena-Peters went missing on Aug. 3, 2012, and her body was found on Aug. 13, 2012, in Watersmeet Township. Peters is charged with first-degree and second-degree murder and vulnerable adult abuse.
Throughout the afternoon Friday, Adams called witnesses to the stand to ask about suspicious conversations that Peters had leading up to the day his wife disappeared.
Josh Hotchkiss, a former acquaintance of Peters, testified the relationship between Peters and Grzena-Peters was “far from healthy.”
While Hotchkiss and Peters were both incarcerated at the Gogebic County Jail for separate incidents, Hotchkiss said he and Peters discussed making someone “disappear.”
“He said, ‘To get rid of someone, dig a hole big enough in the woods and they would never be found,’” Hotchkiss said.
Adams also called Gary Golombeski, of Ironwood, to the stand, asking him about previous conversations Peters had with him.
Golombeski worked with Peters, shoveling roofs around the area during the winter. He said during the roughly six months he knew Peters, Peters made comments about Grzena-Peters, including marrying her only to “get everything she’s worth.”
Peters also reportedly told Golombeski that he and his brother could “make people disappear.”
Golombeski told officers about the conversations he and Peters had after hearing Grzena-Peters went missing on the news. Golombeski reported the conversations while incarcerated at the Gogebic County Jail for a separate offense.
Adams asked Golombeski if he had asked the officers for any help in his incarcerated state in exchange for giving information about Peters.
He said no, and when asked why, he simply said, “I did it because I always liked Ethel.”
Peters’ attorney Rudy Perhalla asked Golombeski why he didn’t report Peters’ comments immediately after they were said. Golombeski said that he thought Peters’ was joking.
“When I saw the news about people finding Ethel’s body, I had a feeling that Ken had something to do with it,” Golombeski said.
Adams also called Katherine Ramme, of Bessemer, to the stand. Ramme was an acquaintance of Peters, and testified about a couple of conversations Peters had with her before Grzena-Peters’ disappearance.
Around a month before Grzena-Peters’ disappearance, Ramme said that Peters contacted her, discussing a possible alibi.
“He called and asked if I would be there for him if he needed an alibi,” Ramme said.”He wanted to know if we could back each other up. I never responded to him.”
According to Ramme, Peters also discussed different laws about getting Grzena-Peters’ home and possessions in case something were to happen to her.
About four or five days after Grzena-Peters’ disappearance, Ramme said she received a voicemail from Peters saying, “I didn’t murder anyone, and I didn’t do anything to Ethel.”
According Ramme, Peters also left a voicemail the day Grzena-Peters went missing, saying that Ramme had “f’d” him over, because she borrowed $30 from him for Vicodin pills.
Perhalla objected to the statement, citing that it set a prejudice about Peters for selling Vicodin to Ramme. Members of the jury were ushered from the room and both attorneys discussed the matter with Gotham.
Adams argued that the drugs were, in his belief, part of the motive as to why Peters killed his wife.
“He wanted to get what he could out of her, but had a hard time cutting her loose,” Adams said. “What she had, included prescription medications.”
Adams called Peters a “master sponge,” mentioning a suitcase filled with Grzena-Peters’ medications in Peters’ basement living quarters that was put into evidence.
Gotham sustained Perhalla’s objection, citing that Michigan law does not allow previous “bad acts” to be used in trials to convict someone of a current crime.
Members of the jury were brought back into courtroom and were told to disregard Ramme’s statements about Peters’ voicemail.
After Ramme testified, Adams called Ramme’s daughter, Jessica Swanson, of Iron Belt, Wis., to the stand.
Swanson said that the day after Grzena-Peters went missing, Peters came to her apartment to tell her his wife had disappeared. She said she was “surprised” to see him.
Swanson then asked Peters if he had notified the police about his wife.
“He said, ‘No, not yet, and I probably won’t, because she’s on one of her sprees,’” Swanson said.
Swanson elaborated on “sprees,” and said that Grzena-Peters would sometimes wander off around the community.
“I jokingly asked him if he had killed her, and he said ‘Do I look like the murdering type?’” Swanson said.
Adams asked why Swanson would make the joke, and she replied, “because he was always complaining about having to take care of her.”
After Peters left the apartment, Swanson said that she reported the incident to the police.
Adams then asked if she had ever seen Peters and his wife arguing. On June 30, Swanson said that she had witnessed Peters and his wife arguing at their house about the deed to the home. The deed was in both Grzena-Peters’ and her daughter’s names.
“He said to her, ‘When were you going to tell me about your daughter being on the deed?’” Swanson said. “Then Ethel came and sat in the living room by me. She looked a little dazed and confused but went about her business.”
After some time, Peters joined Swanson and his wife in the living room. When Grzena-Peters left the room briefly, Peters made a comment to Swanson.
“He said to me, ‘Don’t be surprised if she falls down the stairs and breaks her neck,’” Swanson said. “He said it to me, not to Ethel.”
Court recessed after Swanson’s cross-examination and will resume on Monday at 9 a.m. The trial is expected to continue over the next two to three weeks.