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Ruling today in cold case murder appeal


WAUSAU, Wis. (WSAU) – A Marathon County judge will tell us this morning whether he will grant a new trial to a Wausau man convicted in a 1999 cold case murder.

James Emerson is appealing his murder conviction on the grounds that his trial attorney Peter Thompson was ineffective. A jury found Emerson guilty in the death of Rhonda Mertes and Judge Greg Grau sentenced him to life in prison without the chance for parole.

Grau will issue an oral ruling on the appeal at 9 a.m.

Emerson says he lost trust in Thompson’s ability to represent him two weeks before trial. Emerson, who is African American, also claims Thompson failed to strike individual jurors who showed a racial bias. And Emerson’s appellate lawyer argues that Thompson failed to properly prepare a defense with DNA experts or prevent prejudicial evidence from the trial.

“I think we made an appropriate argument based on the evidence,” Thompson testified during a two-day hearing in February. He said they eventually settled on attacking the way evidence was handled as a major defense to the murder charge.

Thompson added that he did not expect a statement to come up at trial that Emerson's ex-lover committed suicide after he confessed to her about killing Mertes.