April 18, 2013 | Vol. 94, No. 91

Bloodhounds, forensic video analysis add to Peters' trial

BESSEMER — Members of the jury listened to testimony on bloodhounds and forensic video analysis Wednesday during day five of the Kenneth Peters murder trial at the Gogebic County Courthouse in Bessemer.

Cortney Ofstad/Daily Globe
KENNETH PETERS, 50, of Bessemer, speaks to his lawyer, Rudy Perhalla, Wednesday. Peters is on trial for murdering his wife, Ethel Grzena-Peters, 79, in August.

Peters, 50, of Bessemer, is on trial for allegedly murdering his 79-year-old wife, Ethel Grzena-Peters, in August.

Gogebic County Prosecutor Richard Adams started the afternoon by questioning Det. Sgt. Louise Horn, of Vilas County, Wis., on her involvement in the case.

Horn works with bloodhounds, and was dispatched to help locate Grzena-Peters after she was initially reported missing, as well as finding evidence at the location where the body was found in Watersmeet Township a few days later.

Horn displayed specific routes that her dog, Missy, took while searching for evidence in Watersmeet Township. According to Horn, they searched for Peters’ scent, as well as his wife’s, at the scene.

When searching for Peters’ scent, Horn said the dog picked up a scent that could have possibly been “spilled” from a vehicle. According to Horn, scent rafts, or dead skin cells, could come from a vehicle if the windows were open or if the vehicle had poor ventilation.

While searching for Grzena-Peters’ scent, Missy found an article of clothing belonging to her near the location where her body was found, however the “heavy concentration” of Grzena-Peters’ scent “overwhelmed” the dog, and the search was stopped.

Peters’ lawyer, Rudy Perhalla, questioned Horn about possible cross-contamination with scents. Perhalla asked that if a wife and husband washed their clothes together, would there be cross-contamination, and Horn said that it could be possible, but the greatest portion of the scent would come from the person wearing the article of clothing.

Perhalla asked if cross-contamination could take place by people in close proximity to each other.

“If one person was sitting in a chair, and the other was on the couch, the scents would be slight,” Horn said. “But it would be stronger if they were to hug, for example.”

Horn was questioned about the possibility of cross-contamination at the scene where Grzena-Peters’ body was found. Perhalla asked Horn if it were possible that Peters’ scent was only on Grzena-Peters body because of them living together, and that her scent was more powerful.

“If Peters’ scent was only on Ethel’s body, Missy would have stayed near the body site, but she kept going,” Horn said.

The article of clothing found near Grzena-Peters’ body was also brought into question for cross-contamination. A jury member asked whether the dog showed interest in the clothing while searching for Peters’ scent and Horn responded with “no.”

Perhalla also questioned Horn’s results after she and Missy worked near Grzena-Peters’ home in Bessemer right after she was declared a missing person.

According to Horn, Grzena-Peters did not walk away from her home, and this conclusion came because of the way Missy was trained.

“When you are looking for a missing person, time is not your friend,” Horn said. “When we worked near the house, Missy was not picking up fresh scents and that is what we needed at a time like that.”

When Grzena-Peters was first declared missing, Horn and her dog searched Stempihar’s BP gas station in Bessemer, her house and Black River Harbor. When Horn searched the BP, she said the dog found a scent traveling east.

Perhalla questioned whether if the vehicle were to have traveled south and then east, the dog would be wrong.

“She looked for the freshest scent and if they traveled east last, that would be the scent that would be the strongest,” Horn said. “She wouldn’t be wrong.”

Video evidence

Det. Sgt. Larry Rothman, of the Michigan State Police, was called to testify by Adams as an expert forensic video technician.

Rothman said he analyzed videos and still photographs pulled from four different locations and compared them to still photographs taken of Peters’ truck.

He called Peters’ truck a “known vehicle,” while the vehicles in question were listed as “unknown vehicles.”

When comparing them, he searched for class characteristics on the vehicles, such as make, model, color, etc. Rothman then searched for unique characteristics on the vehicle, such as dents, scratches and debris.

Video was obtained from the BP station in Bessemer from Aug. 4, a day after Grzena-Peters went missing.

Video was also taken from the Wisconsin-Michigan border camera on the west end of Ironwood, as well as the Wakefield Holiday station. The dates of the other videos were not revealed in court.

According to Rothman, the vehicle seen in the border video is the known vehicle, while the other two videos didn’t have enough unique characteristics to conclusively conclude it was the Peters vehicle.

Adams asked Rothman if it was possible to have a vehicle drive by and not even be seen on camera because of the low video quality. Rothman said it was.

‘Odd’ conversation

Adams called Walter Morgan, a utility worker, to the stand because of a conversation he had with Peters on Aug. 9.

According to Morgan, he was called to location in Bessemer to find underground utility lines because of some telephone pole work that Xcel Energy was doing.

“A gentleman came out of the house across the street,” Morgan said. “He seemed very upset that we were going to be shutting his power off, which I was not going to do.”

Morgan said the gentleman said that his power couldn’t be shut off because his wife was missing.

“I was generally concerned about his wife, and I wanted to find out what happened to her, but he kept coming back to his power being shut off. I had to get back to work, so I gave him my condolences and hoped that everything would turn out OK, and then he said, ‘It’ll be OK. She had a severe case of Alzheimer’s and dementia.’ It struck me as odd because he used the past tense with ‘had.’”

Adams asked if the gentleman was in the courtroom. Morgan said yes, pointing to Peters.