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Robert Pierce Trial Updates

Trial testimony continues in 1975 Door County murder

DOOR COUNTY, Wis. (WBAY) - Testimony continued Wednesday in the trial for a man charged with murdering his wife in 1975.

Richard Pierce, 86, is standing trial in Door County on charges of 1st Degree Murder and Disinterment of Dead for the death of Carol Jean Pierce. Carol Jean has never been located.

Former Sturgeon Bay Police Chief Arleigh Porter took the stand Wednesday. Porter was a detective when he started on the Carol Jean investigation in 1981. He was 24 when he first interviewed Richard Pierce in 1982.

“I believe it was Monday, September 9th, he and Carol Jean had coffee in the morning, and Richard had to report to work at the Coast Guard and it was rifle range duty that day and he worked and returned home late in the afternoon and Carol Jean was not there,” Porter remembered.

Porter subpoenaed documents in 1987 that show ownership for Pierce’s truck was transferred to Richard.

“June 23, 1977 is the date the title was transferred from Carol Jean to Richard. Carol Jean’s signature is on it and notarized. That’s two years after she disappeared,” Porter said.

Porter testified that Pierce’s story changed.

“There were two separate explanations,” Porter testified. “One, he had no idea why she would just sign off on the title. The second one was that she had planned on leaving him.”

Pierce told police he had phone records showing he looked for his wife and called Green Bay hospitals to see if she was there. When asked to turn the records over, Pierce told police they were missing. Also, phone books from that time did not list numbers for the Green Bay hospitals.

Police received tips about unidentified human remains, but none of them turned out to be Carol Jean.

ADA Nick Grode: “Did you ever receive any information that Carol Jean had a driver’s license in another state?”

Porter: “None whatsoever.”

Grode: “Did you ever receive any information of anything on Carol Jean or anybody finding her?”

Porter: “No one found her, no.”

Wisconsin Department of Justice Division of Criminal Investigation Special Agent Jay Yerges took the stand to testify about his work with the investigation. Yerges says he requested information from credit bureaus to run reports on if Carol Jean Pierce was still alive. Yerges says there was no credit history for Carol Jean. He also requested a search of Interpol records, and Carol Jean did not show up there.

Searches were done through the National Crime Information Center and centers that mine data. That data includes social security numbers, driver’s licenses, banking, insurance, police and employment records.

“In checking all of those records, Carol Jean Pierce does not exist in society,” Yerges said. “Carol Jean Pierce does not exist in society. She’s dead. She’s gone. She does not exist.”

On April 1, 2022, investigators got a hit about a Carol Pierce in Montana. Yerges says they checked it out, but it wasn’t Carol Jean. The defense questioned why Yerges, who is sure Carol Jean is dead, would investigate the tip.

“We immediately knew, but in abundance of caution made sure that individual had no aliases,” Yerges said. “The Montana one had a different SSN and other identifiers. Had those officers make sure it wasn’t her.”

Defense attorney Kate Zuidmulder: “Why would you do an investigation into that information if you don’t believe that Carol Jean Pierce may still be alive?”

Yerges: “I do not believe Carol Jean Pierce is alive. When I receive information, I have a duty and obligation to verify that information, and that’s what I do through my duties, my role. I’m sworn. I took an oath to fulfill my duties and obligations. I take those very seriously, and that’s what I do.”

Regarding Pierce’s property, Yerges said the crawlspace area looked different in 2018 than in 2008.

“There was debris that had been removed. There was a bigger hole in that area,” Yerges said. “We requested for cadaver dogs to search that area as well as another company that did ground penetrating radar so we could try to, in a least evasive manner, examine as best we could.”

Defense attorney Kate Zuidmulder: “Why would you do an investigation into that information if you don’t believe that Carol Jean Pierce may still be alive?”

Yerges: “I do not believe Carol Jean Pierce is alive. When I receive information, I have a duty and obligation to verify that information, and that’s what I do through my duties, my role. I’m sworn. I took an oath to fulfill my duties and obligations. I take those very seriously, and that’s what I do.”

Regarding Pierce’s property, Yerges said the crawlspace area looked different in 2018 than in 2008.

“There was debris that had been removed. There was a bigger hole in that area,” Yerges said. “We requested for cadaver dogs to search that area as well as another company that did ground penetrating radar so we could try to, in a least evasive manner, examine as best we could.”

Toward the end of day two, retired Coast Guard Captain Bob Desh was briefly questioned about an alleged suicide attempt made by Carol Jean. Desh served on the United States Coast Guard Cutter Mesquite with Pierce. Details are still limited on the matter.

The prosecution and defense delivered their opening statements Tuesday. That was followed by testimony by Carol Jean’s brother, Brian Fillion. Fillion testified for hours about his sister’s communication with family and devotion to her husband. He told jurors he has not heard from his sister in 46 years.

 

Toward the end of cross examination, after hours on the stand, Fillion was asked if he thought he was biased.

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