Jury hears closing arguments of Peters' murder trial
Cortney Ofstad/Daily Globe
PROSECUTING ATTORNEY Richard Adams presents a list of topics discussed during the trial against Kenneth Wayne Peters, 50, of Bessemer, during his closing arguments on Tuesday in Bessemer. Peters is on trial for allegedly murdering his 79-year-old wife Ethel Grzena-Peters in August 2013.
BESSEMER — During their closing arguments, prosecuting attorney Richard Adams and defense attorney Rudy Perhalla discussed a variety of options and theories for and against the conviction of Kenneth Wayne Peters, 50, of Bessemer.
Peters is on trial for allegedly murdering his 79-year-old wife Ethel Grzena-Peters in August 2012.
Adams started his closing arguments by writing a list of things that were discussed in the trial; deceit, motive, opportunity, geography, topography, weather, bugs and deceit again.
However, the vast majority of his closing arguments were based on the theme of control. Adams told jurors about how Peters handled everything in his wife’s life, including helping her to write a will, trying to change the deed to her house with her, only having one phone in the house, holding her laptop and all of her identification cards and check book in his possession and finally depositing Grzena-Peters’ last social security check into his account.
“It was all about control,” Adams said.
Adams then told jurors about Peters frustration with Grzena-Peters’ dementia-like symptoms. According to Adams, despite all of his claims that his wife’s symptoms were getting worse, at least seven appointments for Grzena-Peters to visit a doctor for an evaluation were canceled, or they just didn’t show up.
The jury was then told about the numerous comments that Peters’ supposedly made to friends and family about leaving or hiding dead bodies and making them “disappear.”
Then Adams then discussed the “lies.”
“When Peters was interviewed by Detective Tim Rajala (of the Gogebic County Sheriff’s Department) he was constantly asked about his purple and black cup,” Adams said. “His response? ‘I don’t know.’ When presented with the video of him on camera at the (Stempihar’s) BP Station, he kept saying, ‘The video’s a lie.’”
Perhalla spoke about the lack of physical evidence linking his client to the case, including the “non-existent purple cup,” and two witnesses testifying to possibly seeing Peters in both Bessemer and Watersmeet near the same time.
“Two things, that I have stressed from the beginning is that there is no evidence of someone seeing or video footage of Ken Peters and Ethel Grzena-Peters in Watersmeet on Aug. 3-4,” Perhalla said.
According to previous testimony, a resident living near the location where Grzena-Peters’ body was found, claimed to have seen a truck matching the description of the truck owned by Peters on Aug. 3, the day Grzena-Peters went missing.
However, Kathleen Dums, of Bessemer, testified that she saw Grzena-Peters driving her husband near the street they lived on nearly the same time that his truck was seen in Watersmeet.
“We have two witnesses tell us that they saw this at the same time,” Perhalla said. “Yet, the neighbor wasn’t clear on the date that he saw this and didn’t identify the truck specifically. Ms. Dums identified the truck and the driver.”
Perhalla then turned his attention toward, in his opinion, another suspect. His suspect was Peters’ friend Rebecca Risley, who also found Grzena-Peters’ body and whose boyfriend owned the cabin where the prosecution believed Peters took his wife to.
According to Perhalla, Tiffany Youngberg, another friend of Peters, testified about seeing Peters drinking from the purple cup all day on Aug. 3 while running errands. Risley also testified to finding a purple cup at the cabin before finding Grzena-Peters’ body.
Perhalla continued his argument, saying that Risley went to Youngberg’s home on Aug. 7, six days before the body was found, and it was there that they hatched a plan.
“Rebecca got information on the purple cup from Aug. 7 from Tiffany,” Perhalla said. “The cup doesn’t exist, it’s not in evidence. It’s only based on what people are telling us. Rebecca should have been looked into more as a suspect. It’s all too coincidental.”
For Perhalla, the key witness was Steve Oliver, a friend of Risley’s who was with her when she found the body.
“He never saw a cup,” Perhalla said. “His response was only ‘Rebecca claimed she saw it.’”
The discussion then turned to the medications that were found in Grzena-Peters’ body, including doses of Alazopram which is used to treat anxiety disorders, panic disorders and anxiety.
According to Perhalla, Grzena-Peters’ former husband had a prescription for the drug, and she was a “drug hoarder.”
“She could have taken these herself,” Perhalla said. “There are also no fingerprints of my clients on the bottle.”
The amount that was found in Grzena-Peters system was “well below therapeutic levels,” according to Perhalla, so it wouldn’t have caused any damage.
For the final portion of his arguments, Perhalla turned towards the “gossip” that was spread during testimony.
“The gossip we hear on the stand is not evidence,” Perhalla said. “The things that my client supposedly said, gossip. And we don’t convict people on gossip.”
Perhalla mentioned the previous testimony of Peters’ former cellmate Isaac Laplander, who testified about letters that Peters wrote from an “anonymous person” claiming to have taken his wife to Watersmeet.
“Isaac Laplander is obviously a liar,” Perhalla said. “He lied to me during interviews, so why would he tell the truth now? My client admitted to the letters, and testified that he never gave them to Laplander. Laplander took them from my clients file and lied about it. And we don’t convict people based on what liars say.
“The physical evidence doesn’t support my client murdering his wife. My client went camping on Aug. 3, someone came to the house, most likely Rebecca Risley, and brought Ethel Grzena-Peters to Watersmeet.”
Adams finished the closing arguments, with a summation of what Perhalla said, calling much of Peters’ testimony “absurd.”
“Rules of evidence don’t allow gossip,” Adams said. “The alibi that Ken gave starts with an absurdity and ends with absurdity.”
Adams cited three separate points in Peters’ testimony to review. The first was the tour of nursing homes that he and his wife took on Aug. 3 in Wakefield.
“He took her to nursing homes after she went to a local law office asking for help, saying that her husband was going to put her in a nursing home and take everything she’s got,” Adams said. “That doesn’t make sense and that’s absurd.”
The second point was Peters testifying that after the tour, he headed out to camp near the Black River on North Moore Road.
“He said they got back from their tour at around 9 p.m ., and then he went camping,” Adams said. “He took a 45 minute hike along the river, came back and made up camp in complete dark. This is also absurd.”
The final point was the “frosting on the absurd cake,” according to Adams.
“Not once did he mention, in the six to eight interviews that he did with police, about the last time he would have seen Ethel,” Adams said. “He never mentioned this tour in Wakefield until now.”
According to Adams, there are many theories as to why Peters is guilty, with many different options. He said that the state’s theory is that Peters took his wife to Watersmeet, and “seriously debated or already decided” to leave her in the woods.
“We suspect he stopped at the cabin, made a fire, drank his liquid courage from his cup and drugged Ethel or Mickeyed her a drink,” Adams said. “She is passed out in the back of the truck, and he continues to sit around the fire. Then he decides to dump her down the ravine.”
According to Adams, he believes that Grzena-Peters crawled out of the ravine after coming to and eventually died along the side of the road.
“He never imagined that she would get out of that ravine,” Adams said. “She had the ability and the will to get out of there. The ravine is strongly suggested by evidence, based on the mud on her pants and sweatshirt.”
As for Peters’ testimony, Adams believed that it “all came together after the fact.”
“He pieced everything together from the police reports that he got while in jail,” Adams said. “So ladies and gentleman, when sorting through this evidence, piece it together. It may not match our theory completely, but it does match the bottom line of who took her out there and that she didn’t come back alive.”