A mentally ill Michigan man is suing state officials and Kalkaska police after he spent 17 years in prison for a murder he did not commit.
40-year-old Jamie Peterson was sentenced to mandatory life in prison for raping and killing 68-year-old Geraldine Montgomery back in 1996 but was released from prison in August, 2014 after DNA evidence exonerated him.
Filed late last month in U.S. District Court in Grand Rapids, Peterson’s lawsuit claims police in Kalkaska and the county prosecutor railroaded him in an attempt to close the books on Montgomery’s death which shocked the small community.
DNA tests had originally excluded Peterson as a source found on the victim’s body, but prosecutors argued that a specimen found on the woman’s shirt collar that was too small to be tested, likely came from Peterson.
The lawsuit claims that during interrogations, Peterson would “change hid responses after the investigators provided him with the ‘correct’ answer,” and that “his answers were confused or inaccurate until he was fed accurate information about the crime scene.”
Peterson told investigators “that he must have done it but had blocked out the memory,” the lawsuit says.
Attorney Gretchen E. Helfrich, who is representing Peterson said investigators, “facing tremendous pressure to solve the crime,” targeted then 22-year-old Peterson, a mentally ill man locked up on an unrelated charge.
“Peterson knew nothing about the crime, but investigators fed him information and used lies, deception, threats and false promises – that Peterson lacked the mental capacity to resist – to induce him to wrongly confess,” Helfrich said.
DNA evidence found at the crime scene implicated another man, but investigators instead argued that Peterson acted with an unknown accomplice. He was convicted in November, 1997.
The lawsuit names officers from the Kalkaska Police Department, Michigan State Police, and former Kalkaska County Prosecutor Brian Donnelly as defendants.
“Investigators not only railroaded an innocent man, but their manipulation of the evidence allowed a dangerous predator to remain free and prey on others,” civil rights attorney Jon Loevy said.
A trial for a suspect originally interviewed by police almost two decades ago in the crime is scheduled to begin on Oct. 12 in Kalkaska County Circuit Court.