New DNA leads to arrest that could clear man in 1996 Mich. murder

CHICAGO, Dec. 3 (UPI) -- New DNA testing led to an arrest in the 1996 rape and slaying of a Michigan woman for which another man went to prison after confessing, activists said Tuesday.

Jason Anthony Ryan of Davison, Mich., was arrested Monday in the October 1996 death of Geraldine Montgomery, 68, of Kalkaska, Mich., for which Jamie Lee Peterson has been imprisoned since February 1997.


Ryan was taken into custody after DNA testing pursued by innocence projects from Northwestern University School of Law and the University of Michigan Law School, Northwestern said in a release.

The Michigan Innocence Clinic and Northwestern University's Center on Wrongful Convictions intend to file legal motions in Kalkaska County Court asking for Peterson's release and a new trial.

Peterson admitted raping and killing Montgomery during a series of statements to police. But his supporters contend he was convicted on a confession containing inconsistencies and inaccuracies -- and inconclusive DNA evidence.


This year Peterson's former attorney, Al Millstein, asked Michigan Innocence Clinic Co-Director David Moran to take another look at the case.

"Upon learning of the case, we were shocked to discover that the previous prosecutor had successfully fought against further DNA testing even though it was indisputable that someone other than Mr. Peterson had raped the victim," Moran said in the university release. "We solicited the assistance of the Center on Wrongful Convictions and met with the new prosecutor in Kalkaska, who consulted the Michigan State Police. We were very pleased when the new prosecutor immediately agreed with us that further DNA testing was of utmost importance."

The new testing performed this summer and fall shows Ryan, a convicted felon, was the source of semen in the rape kit used on the victim, and semen mixed with her saliva on her shirt. The testing on all physical evidence from the scene excludes Peterson, the release said.

Attorneys for Peterson say they have learned while Ryan told Michigan State Police he didn't know Montgomery, he was staying at the nearby home of a man, now dead, who was the initial prime suspect in her slaying. Ryan was interviewed in 1997 as part of the original investigation and police took a saliva sample from him but apparently never tested it.


"This new evidence proves that Jamie Peterson is absolutely innocent, he was never in that house, committed no crimes and has no idea who did," said Caitlin Plummer, one of Peterson's new attorneys.

University of Michigan third-year law student A.J. Dixon, leader of the student team in this case, said he has spent "literally hundreds of hours researching every inch of this case."

"There is absolutely no reliable evidence that there are multiple perpetrators involved. And there is zero evidence that Mr. Peterson and Mr. Ryan had ever even met each other before the crime, let alone that they were friends or co-conspirators," Dixon said. "It takes an incredible amount of mental gymnastics to conclude anything but the arrest of Ryan proves Peterson is innocent."

One of Peterson's attorneys, Joshua Tepfer, said prosecution "clings to the theory that Peterson confessed to details that only the perpetrator could know."

"We look forward to showing how and why false confessions occur with alarming frequency," he said.

Latest Headlines