1975 Door County murder trial delayed until 2022

Published: Apr. 13, 2021 at 5:27 PM CDT
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DOOR COUNTY, Wis. (WBAY) - It will be another nine months before a former Door County man goes on trial in connection to the 1975 disappearance and presumed murder of his wife.

Prosecutors charged Richard Pierce in 2018, more than four decades after Carol Jean Pierce vanished without a trace.

She’s never been found.

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Richard Pierce, who’s about to turn 85, was supposed to be in Door County Tuesday, when his four-week jury trial would have begun.

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Instead, he attended a hearing virtually as attorneys argued issues over access to discovery and evidence.

“Every case is serious, but this is a very serious case. It’s been going on way too long,” Door County Circuit Court Judge David Weber told attorneys and the victim’s family members during the hearing Tuesday.

Carol Jean hasn’t been seen since September of 1975.

Several weeks later, Richard Pierce reported his wife missing and moved to Michigan, where he soon had a new girlfriend, according to investigators.

It wasn’t until late 2018, when investigators and prosecutors decided they had enough to file murder charges against Pierce.

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Tuesday would have been day one of a scheduled month-long trial, but in December, the judge pointed to concerns of holding a fair trial amid a pandemic, along with worries of being unable to find a jury for such a long trial, and delayed it for thirteen months.

Carol Jean’s family was, and still is, very angry.

Brian Fillion, Carol Jean’s younger brother, didn’t say anything in court Tuesday, but at a December hearing, transcripts revealed his anger, saying, “What about the fair trial for my sister, Carol... I’m not going to bite my tongue anymore... This is profoundly absurd. He should be in jail right now and stay there at a minimum ‘til this trial is complete.”

Pierce has been out on bond after medical issues for months, awaiting trial.

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The judge has said repeatedly he wants the case tried, but wants to avoid a mistrial and wants to make it safe for jurors, who will be spending nearly a month in the courthouse listening to testimony.

When Judge Weber ruled the trial would be delayed until January of 2022, Carol Jean’s sister, Jan Rowley, told the court, “I’ll be dead.”

The defense has told the court it favors the delay, but Tuesday, argued that right now, isn’t paying the DA’s office a $4,000 fee for copies of discovery, in order to receive other discovery documents from prosecutors. Defense attorneys argued it’s an appealable issue and an excessive cost.

Prosecutors argued the defense can come to the DA’s office at any time and view the discovery documents.

The judge said he was surprised to be learning of the issue now and wants to hear more arguments from both sides.

The judge is bringing the case back again in May to decide how to move forward and keep it on track for next year’s trial.

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