Thoughts About the James Emerson Trial

Normally, you try to stay unemotional about the stuff you cover.

Sometimes, that's pretty difficult. For example, I was on hand when a local soldier came back from Iraq to meet his newborn son for the first time. If I didn't get a tear in my eye that day (just like everyone else at the airport) you'd have to check to see if I had a heart or not.

That was also the case for me while covering the trial for James Emerson, the man convicted of killing Rhonda Mertes.  I felt personally invested.

A tip call police received after a story I did about the case helped lead to an arrest. It could not be used in the trial because the tipster was unable to testify and that would be "hearsay." (If you've ever watched "Law & Order," you know you can't use it in court) It gave me a personal reason beyond work to watch this trial.

But more importantly, I felt personally invested from closely watching the people involved.

My respect for the Wausau Police Department, especially Investigators Charley Jones & Matt Barnes, DA Jill Falstad and ADA Ken Heimerman are higher than ever. Evidence that was collected nearly 10-years ago is just begging to be lost. It was not. It was rock solid. It was presented almost perfectly to get a conviction. Now, after that glowing review, I need to make a quick note, if any of these people ever really screw up I will certainly report it.

I was also impressed with the defense attorney Peter Thompson. He was handed a difficult case through the public defenders office and did the best he could. Basically arguing the only point he could, (the credibility of two important witnesses who were both jail inmates)

Believe it or not, I feel for James Emerson's wife. I didn't have a chance to talk to her. But it can't be easy watching someone you love and probably believe didn't commit the crime (even in light of rock solid evidence) get convicted and face life behind bars.  Sorry, there's no sympathy here for Emerson himself.  He should rot in prison.

But most importantly, the feeling in my gut in this case comes from watching the victim's family. Even if you don't approve of everything Rhonda Mertes did in her life, she was still a mother of two who was perhaps sexually assaulted and definitely brutally beaten and left half naked in a dilapidated area of a small city. NOTHING LIKE THAT SHOULD EVER HAPPEN TO ANYBODY. AND NO FAMILY SHOULD EVER HAVE TO DEAL WITH THAT HAPPENING TO A LOVED ONE!!

Through the years, I've had the opportunity to talk with Rhonda's family. I've grown to genuinely like and respect them. Especially how they handled themselves during some graphic testimony and looking at pictures of how their loved one died. I hope their lives are now full of peace and happiness and good memories of Rhonda...

And may we never, ever have a crime, cold case or trial like this in Wausau again.


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