Peterson convicted of second-degree murder in mobile home park shooting

Thursday, March 8, 2012 | 10:43 p.m. CST; updated 9:03 a.m. CST, Friday, March 9, 2012
Zachariah Peterson looks back toward family members after a jury found him guilty of second-degree murder Thursday at the Boone County Courthouse in Columbia.

*CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story misstated Stephanie Morrell's title.

COLUMBIA — A jury found Zachariah Peterson guilty of second-degree murder and not guilty of armed criminal action in connection with the January 2011 death of James Porter.

After a two-hour deliberation following a three-day trial, jurors reached and delivered a verdict after Peterson testified Thursday.

Porter was shot five times and found dead Jan. 18, 2011, at Sunset Mobile Home Park, where he and Peterson were middlemen in a drug deal, according to evidence from the first day of testimony.

In his testimony, Peterson admitted that he lied several times during the investigation since January 2011 and told the court what he said Thursday was the truth.  Peterson said he lied about his Chevrolet Tahoe's location, which witnesses testified they had seen leave the scene of the crime after Porter was shot. He said he also lied about where he was on the day of the shooting.

Peterson testified that Porter approached Peterson about getting a large quantity of marijuana to sell. Peterson said he knew connections who he could get marijuana from, and he wanted to "plug in" Porter to the business. This was the starting grounds for the drug deal, Peterson said.

*Boone County Assistant Prosecutor Stephanie Morrell said Peterson missed his chance to be truthful with law enforcement.

"He had his opportunity to tell investigators what happened and he didn't," Morrell said, "and then came up with a story that neatly fit around the state's evidence."

Peterson said his reluctance to speak honestly to police was because of past negative experience and general apprehension toward law enforcement.

"I don't like the police; I don't like the detectives," Peterson said. "I never have."

Peterson's former girlfriend, Janessa Potter, who also testified Thursday, said she also had lied to police during the investigation.

Potter was sentenced to five years of probation on the felony charge of hindering a prosecution.

Morrell said she was pleased with the verdict and that she had never heard Peterson mention before Thursday what he testified in court.

"Our contention was we had sufficient evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt Mr. Peterson's guilt," Morrell said. "Mr. Peterson's testimony today was the first time we had heard that."

Bryan Rankin, Peterson's father, said he was disappointed with the verdict and plans to fight it.

"I'm not going to rest until this is fixed," Rankin said. "This is wrong; this is wrong the way they did this."

Rankin said he believes that Porter's killer is still at large.

Peterson said he was dishonest during the investigation because he did not want to draw attention to himself or his family, in fear of retaliation by others involved in the drug deal, specifically his connections who could supply the large quantity of marijuana.

"He was trying to protect us, his daughter, his girlfriend at the time," Rankin said. "He said on the stand how (the drug dealers) warned him: 'Keep your mouth shut, you know what we do.' When that's coming from the hood, you know what that means."

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