Local News

Petrick Prosecutors To Reopen Case With New Computer Evidence

Posted November 28, 2005 5:57 a.m. EST
Updated December 10, 2006 2:33 p.m. EST

— Prosecutors in the Robert Petrick murder trial plan to reopen their courtroom case after investigators learned of new testimony and information on the defendant's computers that they believe link Petrick to his wife's death.

The prosecution claims Petrick, who is defending himself in the trial, was busy surfing the Internet and doing Google searches around the time his wife, Janine Sutphen, disappeared.

In 2003, detectives seized more than a dozen computers from the home Petrick shared with Sutphen. Since then, computer investigators have been sifting through the hard drives.

Earlier in the trial, computer investigator Ryan Johnson testified that there had been Google searches of words such as "neck," "snap" and "break."

Monday, outside the presence of the jury, Johnson told Superior Court Judge Orlando Hudson that he is still finding new evidence.

"Item No. 2 is a Google search for 'body decomposition,'" Johnson said.

Johnson also testified that he found a Google search for "rigor mortis" and Web sites that explained how the human body deteriorates.

Assistant District Attorney Mitch Garrell pointed out Petrick searched those terms on Jan. 8, 2003 -- one day after Sutphen was last seen and a few weeks before Petrick reported her missing.

Petrick, who rested his case Monday after calling a handful of witnesses to the stand, argued the prosecution's last-minute maneuver was out of line.

"I would strongly object to a reopening of the case," Petrick said. "The state's had their shot, Your Honor. They've had three years to research the case."

While Hudson ruled that jurors could hear about the new computer evidence, he did not rule on another motion that would allow jurors to hear testimony from Petrick's former minister who recently came forward with information she feels is important to the case.

Mary Grigolia, a minister at Eno River Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in Durham, testified Monday about Petrick's reaction when he was told that police were searching a small lake near his home for Suthpen's body.

"Rob turned to the wall and said, 'They'll never find her there,'" Grigolia, who visited Petrick in jail, said. "He spoke with great disdain and arrogance."

Hudson told WRAL that he expects closing arguments in the case on Wednesday.