Testimony concludes in Door County cold case murder trial
DOOR COUNTY, Wis. (WBAY) - Testimony concluded Wednesday in the trial of a man charged with murdering his wife in Door County.
It’s week two of the Richard Pierce trial. The 86-year-old man is standing trial in Door County on charges of 1st Degree Murder and Disinterment of Dead for the death of his wife Carol Jean Pierce. Richard Pierce has maintained his innocence.
Action 2 News will livestream the trial on our website and the WBAY Facebook page. NOTE: We will cut away upon judge’s orders and when the jury is told to leave the room.
Carol Jean Pierce hasn’t been seen since September of 1975. Police say Richard Pierce moved to Cheboygan, Mich., and had a new girlfriend shortly after Carol Jean’s disappearance. A missing persons report for Carol Jean wasn’t filed for 82 days.
The prosecution rested their case after calling 27 different people to the stand. The defense called no witnesses and rested their case, meaning Pierce himself will not testify.
The jury will be back Thursday morning for instructions and closings. The judge told the jurors to expect to begin deliberations by mid-Thursday morning.
On Wednesday, Wisconsin Department of Justice Special Agent Kevin Heimerl testified. Heimerl took all photographs of Pierce’s home during the search warrant in 2018.
Exterior photographs of Pierce’s house show a section of red-painted cinder blocks. Heimerl said the red blocks are below the utility room and master bathroom with a crawl space underneath.
The courtroom continued to walk through the home via photograph.
A photo taken in a living area shows a tool cart near recliner chairs.
“A human remains K9 alerted to an item on the tool cart,” Heimerl said.
While looking at a closeup of the tool cart, Heimerl said it held “a roll of duck tape, a pair of leather work gloves.” He continued, “There’s a small gardening rake. On the bottom is a pressure washer hose and nozzle and some miscellaneous tools.”
Heimerl explained a wooden square seen in a photograph of the utility room, “In the floor, the green-carpeted floor, there is a wooden square which is a floor hatch that provided access into the crawl space below the utility room and master bedroom.”
Assistant District Attorney Nick Grode: “Is there any significance to this cutout in regards to that investigation?”
Heimerl: “I was informed that the K9 also alerted within the crawl space in the area of this cutout.”
Heimerl said investigators removed portions of the concrete in the crawl space to examine the soil.
“They reached the soil. Then they began to put the soil into buckets and it was carried out to the driveway area where we had sifting stations set up,” Heimerl explained. “...all the soil was dumped into a sifting screen, two layers of sifting screens. You shake it. The soil falls through. It catches the large items. You examine all the large items. If they’re non-evidentiary, meaning rocks and stones, they get dumped and the lower screen, same process. And anything that appears to be foreign would be... is pulled out... held as evidence.”
Defense attorney Kate Zuidmulder: “No matter how many search warrants the state of Wisconsin obtained, no matter how much you deconstructed Mister Pierce’s house, no matter how much you dug up and excavated the foundation, law enforcement found no evidence of human remains. Is that correct?”
Heimerl: “That’s my understanding, yes.”
One photograph featured a letter written to a woman Pierce would later marry.
Heimerl read the last line of the letter in court:
“For the past week or so, I’ve had this insatiable craving and have just realized that it’s for the sweet taste of your lips against mine. Two weeks sure seems to be a long time when you’re apart. Love, Rich.”
The letter is postmarked November of 1975. Pierce filed a missing person’s report for Carol Jean in Michigan around the same time.
During Tuesday’s testimony, Jan McCrimmon said she remembered seeing a burn pit outside with bones and a big clump of hair next to it.
University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh Anthropologist Jordan Karsten said the bones were likely from a black bear.
The jurors got to hear voice recordings from Pierce in jail.
The first, from a week after his 2018 arrest, said, “and because there’s no house and nothing but a swimming pool in the yard, they don’t have a body. Therefore, they don’t have any decedent.”
The second recording is from May of 2019. Pierce said, “I asked, I says, Kate, they’re pursing this. I says, have they found a body? And she says no, there isn’t any.”
Wisconsin Division of Criminal Investigation Special Agent Jay Yergis also took the stand.
Assistant District Attorney Nick Grode: “During the phone calls that you monitored, did Mister Pierce ever deny that Carol Jean Pierce was deceased?”
Grode: “Did he ever deny killing her that you can recall listening to?”
Grode: “Did he ever ask anybody to go out and look for her to try to find her?”
Pierce was asked if he wanted to testify but declined.
CLICK HERE for coverage of Tuesday’s trial testimony.
On Sept. 21, 2018, the Wisconsin Cold Case Review Team looked at the case and concluded there was enough to show Richard Pierce was set to gain from Carol Jean’s disappearance.
Investigators from Sturgeon Bay and Michigan spent weeks searching Richard Pierce’s property in Michigan, looking for possible evidence related to Carol Jean’s disappearance. Her remains were not located.
A criminal complaint states Richard Pierce had “gained numerous things based on Carol Jean’s disappearance, which included a pension unencumbered by a wife; most of the important belongings of their marriage; land and a home in Michigan; a new girlfriend weeks after Carol Jean’s disappearance, as well as the benefit of Carol Jean’s silence.”
Wisconsin Department of Justice Division of Criminal Investigation Special Agent Jay Yerges took the stand last Wednesday. He testified about searches of records that show no trace of Carol Jean.
“In checking all of those records, Carol Jean Pierce does not exist in society,” Yerges said. “Carol Jean Pierce does not exist in society. She’s dead. She’s gone. She does not exist.”
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