The Daily Globe - Serving Gogebic, Iron and Ontonagon Counties

 
 

Peters' murder trial, sentencing captured attention in 2013

 

Cortney Ofstad/Daily Globe

In April 2013, former Bessemer resident Kenneth Wayne Peters (pictured) stood trial for murdering his 79-year-old wife, Ethel Grzena-Peters, the previous August.

BESSEMER - In April 2013, former Bessemer resident Kenneth Wayne Peters stood trial for murdering his 79-year-old wife, Ethel Grzena-Peters, the previous August.

Peters' wife was reported missing Aug. 3, 2012, from their Bessemer home and her body was found 10 days later in Watersmeet Township.

Grzena-Peters had dementia and Peters told officers he believed she had wandered off during one of her many walks, however officers found video surveillance of what looked to be Grzena-Peters' truck with Peters in the passenger seat.

After an investigation, Peters was arrested Aug. 22, 2012, by the Gogebic County Sheriff's Department. His bond was set at $1 million cash and Peters was arraigned the next day.

On May 1, 2013, after 12 hours of jury deliberation, Peters was found guilty of first-degree murder and vulnerable adult abuse in the second-degree.

Numerous witnesses described conversations they had with Peters. Peters talked about making someone "disappear," and to marry Grzena-Peters to "get everything she's worth."

Others testified about purchasing drugs from Peters, something Gogebic County Prosecutor Richard Adams believed was part of the motive Peters had for killing his wife.

"He wanted to get what he could out of her, but had a hard time cutting her loose," Adams said during the trial. "What she had included prescription medications."

Adams described Peters as a "master sponge" and called witnesses to testify Peters used his wife in different instances.

Peters took the stand and was questioned about his relationship with his late wife.

According to Peters, he met Grzena-Peters through his business, and cleaned out her driveway. Soon, they became friends and in April 2011, he moved into her home.

In July 2011, Peters testified he and Grzena-Peters decided to get married because of fears she had about going to the 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 to the right to do that to her."

Throughout his cross-examination, Adams grilled Peters on many inconsistencies in his story, including his camping trip the day Grzena-Peters went missing, to Peters taking his wife on a drive near some retirement homes to look at them, also on the day his wife went missing.

A major point Adams focused on was two letters and a partial page of notes Peters admitted to writing while incarcerated at the Gogebic County Jail.

The first letter was written by an "anonymous person," who claimed to have brought Grzena-Peters to Watersmeet after finding her "confused" at Citgo in Bessemer. According to "anonymous," Grzena-Peters claimed her husband was camping in Watersmeet and that she needed to see him.

The second letter was also from "anonymous," written to Peters, saying how "sorry" they were for putting him in this predicament.

The page of notes described the clothes his wife was wearing the night of her disappearance, as well as what she was carrying.

Peters called the letters "stupid and desperate" on his part and wrote them "because I was scared."

Finally, Adams asked Peters about previous remarks he made to other witnesses who testified, saying Peters commented about leaving dead bodies in holes, quarries, ditches, ravines and in the woods.

Adams asked Peters if he would make those references.

"When talking about a body, no," Peters said.

"So any person who testified about these supposed comments were all mistaken?" Adams said.

"Yes," Peters said.

After 12 hours of deliberation, the jury reached a verdict of guilty.

Judge Roy Gotham sentenced Peters to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Gotham said the evidence showed Peters was "strongly motivated" to get rid of his wife.

Grzena-Peters' daughter, Milia Nivison, spoke during sentencing about her mother's murder.

"This cruel betrayal that you have done is a coward's act," Nivison said. "However, coward is too good a word for you. You are a lazy, greedy, selfish, bottom-feeder. It's because of you that I will never get to see her, touch her or tell her that I love her ever again."