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Emerson denied new trial in cold case murder

James Emerson
James Emerson

WAUSAU, Wis, (WSAU) - A judge has refused to grant a new trial to a Wausau man convicted in the 1999 cold case murder of Rhonda Mertes.

Judge Greg Grau ruled that James Emerson's trial attorney was not ineffective.

"I cannot find that trial counsel's conduct so undermined the proper functioning of the adversarial process to the point where the trial result cannot be relied upon," Grau said.

"Moreover, I do not find any error occurred at trial that justifies a new trial."

Grau denied that there was a lack of communication between Emerson and attorney Peter Thompson. He also ruled that Emerson threatened Thompson in jail on the eve of trial as a way to get the trial postponed and push Thompson off the case. Grau re-affirmed his decision not to let Thompson withdraw.

Grau said Thompson was adequately prepared for trial, had an appropriate level of communication with Emerson during the trial through his private investigator and mounted a valid defense when he attacked DNA experts on cross examination.

The judge also said Thompson was not out of line when he made strategic decisions not to strike some jurors or challenge prejudicial statements that Emerson's ex-lover committed suicide after he confessed to her about the murder.

Grau refused to hold a new sentencing hearing. Emerson will continue serving a life prison sentence with no chance for parole.

Emerson will likely appeal today's ruling.