NEW INFO: Mertes Murder Suspect Held on $1 Million Bond

By: WSAW Staff
By: WSAW Staff
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Bond for the man arrested in the 1999 murder of Rhonda Mertes has been set at $1 million cash.

James Emerson, 43, of Wausau made his initial court appearance this afternoon in Marathon County.

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He's been charged with being party to the murder.

Wausau Police Chief Jeff Hardel says Emerson was taken into custody on Friday.

According to state records, Emerson has an extensive criminal history that includes fourth-degree sexual assault and disorderly conduct.

The body of Mertes, 37, was found by joggers on Wausau's east side on December 4, 1999.

Investigators followed up on nearly 700 leads, combing through thousands of pages of documents.

Police say what led them to Emerson was a tip from a viewer who watched a special series of reports on NewsChannel 7 regarding unsolved crimes.

Emerson was on a list of suspect that covered 100 people.

Police immediately found him in Wausau and had him submit a DNA swab.

The sample was sent to the state crime lab in Madison for testing.

Hardel says within weeks, police learned Emerson's DNA was found on three places on the body and Mertes' torn clothing.

Prosecutors are confident that science will help them solve the case despite the fact that it's been more than seven years since her death.

District Attorney Jill Falstad says witnesses also place Emerson and Mertes at the same downtown Wausau bar, the 101 Pub, at closing time the morning she was found dead.

The bartender working that day says she was friends with Mertes and had visited a memorial for her this morning.

She says she placed a rose for her and said, "Rhonda, we've got him. We've got the person who did this to you."

Police are figuring out whether Mertes and Emerson knew each other before that day.

The family of Mertes says they're grateful for the countless hours of work Wausau police put into this case.

Mertes' brother, David, says they were on the verge of giving up two weeks ago.

He says they're now bracing for the sting of the trial and reliving the chain of events that led up to today.

About 20 family members were present at this morning's news conference at the police department.

Former police chief Bill Brandimore is also relieved about Emerson's arrest.

Brandimore retired in 2005 before the case could be solved.

When he spoke with NewsChannel 7 at his retirement party, he said the Rhonda Mertes case would stay with him.

He said he hoped the mystery would be solved with the State Cold Case Department taking a fresh look at the evidence.

Brandimore says he was elated to hear about the arrest, and he's proud of all the work the detective bureau put into the case.

If you have any information about the Mertes murder, call the Rhonda Mertes tip line at (715) 261-7847.

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