BESSEMER — Jurors heard testimony from a former cell mate of Kenneth Peters who spoke about fixing “damning evidence” during 32nd Circuit Court proceedings on Tuesday at the Gogebic County Courthouse in Bessemer.
Peters, 50, of Bessemer, is on trial for allegedly murdering his 79-year-old wife Ethel Grzena-Peters in August 2012.
Prosecuting attorney Richard Adams called Isaac Laplander, of Ironwood, to the stand and questioned him about his experience as Peters’ cell mate in early December 2012 at the Gogebic County Jail.
Laplander said that he and Peters became close enough to start discussing the reasons why they were in jail.
“He offered me his case file, and said that I should read it,” Laplander said. “The more I read it, the more I became intrigued as to whether he was innocent or not.”
Later, Laplander said that Peters came to him asking him for help.
“He said that he made a couple of mistakes involving damning evidence,” Laplander said. “He wanted me to help him out.”
According to Laplander, the two pieces of damning evidence were Peters and his wife on camera at the gas station the day she went missing, as well as a mug that Peters left at a friend’s cabin, near where Grzena-Peters was found.
“He said he needed a cover story,” Laplander said. “A way to get Ethel from point A to point B.”
Adams questioned Laplander how this cover was to be created, and Laplander said that Peters created a plan to write an anonymous letter from a person claiming to have picked up Grzena-Peters from the Citgo Station in Bessemer.
“The letter would say that his wife was confused and that the person drove her to Watersmeet because that is where her husband was supposedly camping,” Laplander said. “The letter would also describe the clothes that she was wearing and the things that she would be carrying, including a carton of milk and the mug.”
Peters also wanted to write a second letter, according to Laplander, that would be from the “anonymous person,” directed towards Peters himself.
“He wanted the letter to apologize to him,” Laplander said. “Said it would help spice it up.”
The plan was to have Laplander memorize the letters, in case they ended up in the “wrong hands” and have him type them when he was out of jail.
“I saved the two letters because I wanted to use them as ‘get out of jail free cards,’” Laplander said. “But I didn’t use them.”
He took the original letters home with him and saved them. Adams asked him why he didn’t use the letters.
“I’m not normally on this side of the law,” Laplander said. “I didn’t want to be a snitch.”
According to Laplander, Peters also told him what “really” happened with Grzena-Peters.
“He told me that they had been drinking gin all day,” Laplander said. “At about midday, the decided to take a ride to a cabin in, where I am assuming is Watersmeet.”
According to Laplander, Peters told him that they stopped at Stempihar’s BP Station in Bessemer to switch drivers, then the stopped at the Citgo Station in Bessemer to get a pack of cigarettes before heading out of town.
“When they got to Watersmeet, his wife’s dementia kicked in and he got annoyed,” Laplander said. “He said that he decided to go home, and hopped in the truck and left, leaving her there. He didn’t want to cause her any harm, and thought that she would walk to a neighbors.”
In the cross examination, attorney Rudy Perhalla asked Laplander if he was “pressured” by officers to give up the letters.
“The officers contacted me by phone first, then came to my house,” Laplander said. “They didn’t threaten or suggest anything that could be done to my probation, only persuading me to do the right thing and turn the letters over.”
Perhalla also asked him about the interview that he conducted at Laplander’s home.
“You told me that you believed my client was innocent,” Perhalla said. “Are you telling the truth now?”
Laplander said, “Yeah, because I am under oath.”
“Did you lie to me?” Perhalla asked.
Laplander said, “Yes.”
Cleaning and conversations
Tiffany Youngberg, an employee with Caring Caregivers, was called to the stand by Adams and questioned about her experience working with Grzena-Peters as a client.
According to Youngberg, Peters had asked her to drive him around to do some errands on Aug. 3, 2012, the day before Ethel went missing.
During the day, Peters spoke about his frustrations with Grzena-Peters, according to Youngberg.
“He said, ‘I could drop her off in the woods and leave her there,’” Youngberg said. “At first I thought he was joking, but after she went missing, I thought he did it.”
Youngberg also said that Peters contacted her the day Grzena-Peters went missing. She said that she asked Peters if he filed a police report, and he said, “No, because her social security checks would stop.”
After police spoke to Youngberg, she began to record her conversations with Peters, including one phone call and one face-to-face conversation.
“In the first recording, he said that Ethel had been discovered and that he was frustrated that the police were focusing on him,” Youngberg said. “In the second recording, he said that Ethel had been found on ‘Beaver something road’ near a buddy’s house. He said that the police should question his buddy.”
Peters also asked Youngberg for a ride the day he was arrested.
“He wanted a ride to the bus station so he could get a ticket to the Dakotas,” Youngberg said.
In cross examination, Perhalla asked Youngberg about her contact with Peters while working with Grzena-Peters as a client. Youngberg said that she had kissed Peters once, purchased Vicodin from him and sent “indecent” photos of herself to his phone.
“After that, I told him that we could only be friends,” Youngberg said.
According to Youngberg, the friendship is the reason why she did the second recording in her vehicle after Grzena-Peters had been found.
“When I asked him about his early comment about leaving her in the woods, he denied saying it, but when I jogged his memory, he said, ‘Please don’t ever repeat that,’” Youngberg said.
Adams redirected questions towards Youngberg including questions that Peters asked her about DNA.
“He asked how long DNA would last,” Youngberg said.
Adams said, “Why would he ask you that?”
“He was referencing to a cup,” Youngberg said.