April 27, 2013 | Vol. 94, No. 99

Peters testifies about relationship with murder victim

BESSEMER — Kenneth Wayne Peters, 50, of Bessemer, testified Friday about how he came to meet the woman he is accused of murdering.

Cortney Ofstad/Daily Globe
KENNETH PETERS, of Bessemer, testifies Friday during his murder trial at the Gogebic County Courthouse in Bessemer.

Peters is on trial for allegedly murdering his wife, Ethel Grzena-Peters, 79, last August.

Prosecutor Richard Adams rested and defense attorney Rudy Perhalla asked for Judge Roy Gotham to throw out the case, saying there wasn’t enough evidence to continue the proceedings.

Gotham denied the motion, ruling there was enough evidence for a “rational juror to render a decision.”

Perhalla asked Peters questions about how he came to the area and how he met Grzena-Peters.

Peters said he had met her through his business and cleaned out her driveway in the winter. After many conversations, the two became close friends, and in April 2011, he moved into her home. She lived upstairs and he lived in a basement apartment.

According to Peters, while their relationship was never romantic, they decided to get married in July 2011, because of fears Grzena-Peters had.

“She was afraid of going to a nursing home,” Peters said. “She was afraid that her children were going to put her in a home, and if we got married, they wouldn’t have the right to do that to her.”

After being married, Peters testified his new wife made him promise he would never put her into a nursing home.

“She said that if I saw her through and didn’t put her in a home, that she would sign the house over to me,” Peters said. “I told her I didn’t want that, that I never wanted her house. I wanted to make sure that her kids got everything they deserved first.”

After leaving to work in Iowa for the summer, Peters returned to Bessemer, and said he had around $1,200 in unpaid fines from a drunk driving arrest in 2004.

He said he turned himself in and was sentenced to 30 days in jail. After getting out, he realized that Grzena-Peters’ dementia had gotten worse, leading him to call Caring Caregivers to help.

After returning from jail, Peters also met one of Grzena-Peters’ daughters, who came to visit last May.

“Amelia didn’t like me, and I didn’t like her,” Peters said. “We both had strong personalities, so we butted heads.”

According to Peters, his wife was taken back to Gladstone with her daughter and he wasn’t told about it. “Ethel called me that night, and said that she would be there for about five days,” Peters said. “But the next morning, Amelia brought her back.”

Peters said he stayed with Grzena-Peters despite her daughter’s name being on the deed to the house, and that he knew nothing of the suitcase filled with medications that were found in Grzena-Peters’ home by a Caring Caregiver employee in May.

“I had never seen that suitcase before, and I didn’t even know that it existed,” he said.

Perhalla also asked about a Caring Caregiver employee named Tiffany Youngberg. She testified earlier in the week about having a “friendship” with Peters outside of work and about recordings she made while having conversations with him after Grzena-Peters’ disappearance.

According to Youngberg, Peters once said that he “could drop her (Grzena-Peters) off in the woods and leave her there.”

He denied that. “I never told her anything about leaving Ethel in the woods,” Peters said. “I would never say that.”

Day of disappearance

Perhalla asked Peters about his actions on Aug. 3, the day before Grzena-Peters went missing.

He said that night he and his wife went for a ride to Stempihar’s BP Station in Bessemer to switch drivers. According to Peters, he doesn’t have a driver’s license and if he drove the vehicle from the house, the “neighbors would call the cops.

“We would stop at the BP and switch drivers all the time,” Peters said.

After leaving the BP, the two headed toward Wakefield. They drove past the retirement home and to Gogebic Medical Care Facility to get Grzena-Peters comfortable with the idea of possibly going there some day, Peters said.

“I thought maybe if she was comfortable with it, maybe she would change her mind one day,” Peters said.

After arriving home, Peters said they decided to head to the Citgo in Ironwood to get gas and cigarettes before going home.

“After we got home, I went into the house, got her inside, grabbed some stuff and headed out to Black River to go camping,” Peters said.

The next morning, Aug. 4, Peters said he woke up and headed home to find that his wife wasn’t there.

“I went over to the neighbors to see if she was there, but she wasn’t,” Peters said. “So I drove up and down her walking route and I couldn’t find her.”

Peters then went to Iron Belt, Wis., to see a friend to help him find her, but he couldn’t find the friend. He then headed to Ironwood to find another friend at the Advance Motel.

“I knocked on her door to see if they had taken Ethel to breakfast, or had stopped out at the house, but they weren’t there, either,” Peters said. “Then I thought Amelia had taken her.”

Peters testified he wasn’t too concerned because Grzena-Peters would be gone for hours on walks, but he called the police on Saturday night anyway.

“I was worried sick on Sunday,” Peters said.

A police report was filed, but Peters said after interviews with officers, things didn’t feel “right.”

“It was like they weren’t looking for Ethel, they were looking at me,” Peters said. “I felt like a suspect from the beginning.”

Arrested

On Aug. 22, Peters was arrested. While in jail in Gogebic County, he met Isaac Laplander. He testified Peters wrote anonymous letters to help his case, including one letter that stated an anonymous person “picked Ethel up at the Citgo station and brought her to Watersmeet because she was confused and said that was where her husband was camping.”

Peters confessed to writing the letters, and when Perhalla asked why, he said because he was “scared.”

“I had just been arrested three days earlier, officers were telling me that they had all this evidence against me, and they scared the heck out of me,” Peters said. “I felt that they had fabricated all this evidence against me, and I was scared so I wanted to save myself.”

Perhalla asked Peters if he had given the letters to Laplander, like Laplander had previously testified.

“I never gave them to him,” Peters said. “He read every piece of paper on my case that I had, and those letters were in my file, which he read.”

Laplander also testified Peters confessed to him about leaving Grzena-Peters in Watersmeet Township.

“I never confessed to anyone, let alone him, who I had just met three weeks ago,” Peters said. “I never confessed, because I didn’t do it. Ethel was my friend, and I would never do that.”

Cross examination

Adams questioned Peters about his finances, including him not paying taxes in 2012 for the 2011 fiscal year, and how a loan that Grzena-Peters took out in 2012 had defaulted.

Peters was also questioned about medications his wife took. Peters said that his wife didn’t like to take her medications, and Adams then questioned why she had Ativan in her system when she died.

“She took her medications and I took mine,” Peters said. “I didn’t even know what she was taking, and I never gave her any pills.”

Adams said, “So all of those people who testified about you talking about giving your wife pills, counting pills and showing them pills were all lying? And you’re telling me that the person who didn’t like taking pills took Ativan herself?”

Adams also mentioned testimonies from people who claimed Peters was “irritated” when he found out that Grzena-Peters’ daughter’s name was on the deed.

“If you didn’t care about getting the house, then why were you so irritated?” Adams asked.

Adams was unable to finish his cross examination of Peters before court recessed for the day. The trial resumes Monday at 9 a.m.