A packed Kenai courtroom listened Monday as attorneys in the Jamie Petterson murder trial presented final arguments before turning the case over to a jury of eight women and four men for deliberations.
Erwin "Jamie" Petterson Jr., 29, of Kenai, is on trial in Kenai Superior Court, accused of causing the deaths of Robert Weiser, 60, and Donna Weiser, 56, of Anchorage, in a fiery crash on the Seward Highway on Oct. 12, 2002.
According to an Alaska State Trooper report, Petterson and a passenger were watching an in-dash DVD movie and Petterson's northbound Ford F-150 crossed the centerline into the southbound lane, hitting the Weisers' Jeep Grand Cherokee.
Assistant district attorney June Stein told the jury she realizes those hearing the court case have lost focus.
"It's been three weeks since we've had any information about Robert and Donna Weiser," she said.
She then displayed a photo of the couple on a slide screen set up in the courtroom.
"This is how they appeared before they had the unfortunate experience of being on the road the same day as Jamie Petterson," Stein said.
"The Weisers were just on a drive from Anchorage. Robert Weiser was driving in his lane, enjoying the drive on Oct. 12, 2002, the day his life ended," she said.
Stein detailed the information presented by witnesses who testified during the three-week trial, which began July 22, calling particular attention to those who reported that Petterson had gone into the Weisers' southbound lane, those who said he had been speeding and those who said he was passing people like they were standing still.
She recalled testimony by investigators who said Petterson's pickup had a "veritable home entertainment center," including the DVD player.
She also made reference to the testimony of Petterson's sole passenger, Jonathan Douglas, who supposedly called his ex-wife from the Anchorage hospital where he was treated for minor injuries after the wreck, telling her he was "zoned out on a DVD" when the crash occurred.
Stein told the jurors it is their job to be judges of the facts.
"Look at the defendant's conduct in this case.
"The defendant did what he wanted to do, because that's who Jamie Petterson is.
"He does what he wants to do and woe be to the rest of us," she said.
Petterson's attorney, Chuck Robinson, countered Stein's arguments saying he did not think anyone would disagree that a tragic accident occurred on Oct. 12, 2002.
He said the state wants the jury to believe that neither the Weisers nor Petterson and Douglas made it to their destinations that day because Jamie Petterson committed murder.
"You must presume innocence until guilt is proven beyond a reasonable doubt," Robinson said.
"Jamie Petterson is as innocent now as when this trial started," he said.
Describing the jury as being a safety net between the government and its citizens, Robinson referred to a criminal case from American history in which the country's second president, John Adams, represented Capt. Thomas Preston on trial for ordering his men to fire upon an angry crowd of rock and ice throwers.
Adams was warned against representing the captain and his unpopular order but argued that the "facts are stubborn," Robinson told the jurors.
"The jury acquitted Capt. Preston," Robinson said.
"The state's case against Jamie Petterson is unfair. It's manipulative. It's unjust prosecution. There is no search for the truth," he said.
"The state's case is rotten from head to toe."
"There's not a shred of evidence that Mr. Petterson ever illegally passed," he said.
"Speeding? Did you hear what his speed was beyond a reasonable doubt?
"I submit, you didn't," he said.
"If all the state has is speeding, is this extreme indifference to the value of human life?"
"This is not murder or manslaughter or criminal negligent homicide," Robinson said.
"This was a terrible, tragic accident," he said.
He said the district attorney needed to prove that Petterson's passing, speeding and DVD watching caused the deaths, beyond a reasonable doubt.
"She didn't prove any," Robinson said.
He told the jury they should decide Petterson is not guilty of murder, manslaughter or criminal negligent homicide.
As Judge Charles Cranston instructed the jury before sending them into deliberations, if they cannot find Petterson guilty of second-degree murder as charged, they can find him guilty of the lesser offenses, man-slaughter or criminal negligent homicide.
The jury exited the courtroom at 12:42 p.m.
They had been told earlier by Cranston that they would be allowed to meet in the courthouse until 9 p.m. each day until a verdict is reached.
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