In a sleepy village in northern Michigan, a jury found a 22-year-old named Jamie Lee Peterson guilty of the rape and murder of a 68-year-old widow.
However, semen found inside victim Geraldine Montgomery did not match Peterson’s DNA. Police decided that there must have been a second, unknown accomplice.
DNA testing led to an arrest Monday of Flint-area resident Jason Ryan, in part to the Innocence Clinic the University Law School and Northwestern University School of Law.
Law student A.J. Dixon led the Michigan Innocence Clinic student team on the Peterson case. He said the DNA testing proves that Peterson was not involved.
“I can’t see how anyone looking at this case could come to any conclusion other than that Jamie Lee Peterson is innocent and that the sole perpetrator of this crime was Jason Anthony Ryan,” Dixon said.
Peterson’s former attorney —Al Millstein — approached Michigan Innocence Clinic co-director David Moran last spring, Dixon said. Millstein and a Kalkaska County attorney made repeated attempts for the county prosecutor to investigate using newer DNA technologies. Though the former prosecutor rebuffed these requests, the current prosecutor allowed that recent innovations might correctly identify the unknown source of the semen.
DNA results identified Ryan this summer as the source of semen found in the rape kit and on Montgomery’s shirt. The latter DNA could not be tested in 1996.
Dixon said their motion for a new trial would be filed by Dec. 25. If the motion passes, the jury would hear new evidence and decide if Peterson is still guilty. He currently is sentenced to life in prison without parole.
Still, Dixon explained that one cannot predict if or when Peterson will be exonerated, despite the lack of hard evidence that he is guilty.
“I would certainly say that the true perpetrator being arrested is enormous and enormously important,” Dixon said. “We’re not going to be satisfied until Jamie Lee Peterson has been released.”
Correction Appended: A previous version of this article misquoted law student, A.J. Dixon.