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Trial begins for Elizabethton man charged in beating death

Becky Campbell • Apr 14, 2008 at 12:00 AM

JOHNSON CITY — A Johnson City man testified Monday that he crawled through an unlocked window to get into his father’s Kentucky Street apartment nearly two years ago to check on him, and went into shock when he discovered the man surrounded by blood and blood spatter.

“When I touched him, he was already stiff and hard,” Jody Peterson testified, telling a seven-man, six-woman jury about finding his father, Robert “Bill” Peterson, on May 15, 2006.

Johnson City police investigators said Bill Peterson, 67, was beaten to death, and prescription medications and money from his wallet were missing.

Roger Dale Greenwell, 30, of Elizabethton, is on trial charged with first-degree felony murder — which is murder committed during the progress of another crime — in the elder Peterson’s death.

Jurors began hearing testimony around 1 p.m. after attorneys in the case — Assistant District Attorneys General Dennis Brooks and Janet Vest Hardin for the state and defense attorney Don Spurrell — spent the morning selecting the panel.

In his opening statement, Brooks told the jury some of the evidence they would hear in the state’s case, including how Peterson had an almost methodical schedule that caused his family concern when he diverted from it the day he was found dead. Brooks also said Peterson was known to sell his prescription medications, which was apparently how he knew Greenwell, and that someone — Greenwell in the prosecution’s opinion — used the claw end of a hammer to beat the elderly man to death.

Jody Peterson testified that he saw blood on the kitchen floor, where his father was lying, and all around him. “I went into shock. My whole body was shaking.”

He said he called 911, got out of the apartment at the dispatcher’s direction and then called his mother, Pat Setzer.

Setzer had asked her son to check on his father. She testified that her ex-husband, who was her best friend, went to her house every day unless he had a doctor’s appointment.

He’d been there the day before, on Mother’s Day, and had asked her to come to his apartment to watch a movie.

“I guess it was a good thing I didn’t go,” she said.

On Monday, May 15, Setzer expected Peterson just like any other day, she testified. But he didn’t show up as he usually did around 11 a.m. By 5 p.m., she was worried because Peterson wasn’t answering his phone, so she called their son and had him go check on his father.

During cross-examination of Jody Peterson and Setzer, Spurrell asked them if they were aware that he sold his prescription medications to other people. Setzer said her ex-husband told her he had done that, but Jody Peterson said he didn’t know anything about it.

Spurrell also asked about Bill Peterson’s health conditions. Peterson had battled lung and throat cancer, according to Setzer, and had a tracheotomy and a feeding tube through which he ate, drank and took all his medications.

Setzer said that for his medications too big to crush in a pill crusher, Peterson would put the pill inside a $1 bill and use a hammer to pound the pill.

During Brooks’ opening statements, he told jurors they will hear expert testimony about two drops of blood on a pair of black sneakers that belonged to Greenwell. Johnson City police obtained the shoes from the Carter County Jail after Greenwell was arrested nine days after Peterson’s death.

Brooks told jurors the blood on Greenwell’s shoes matched Peterson’s blood from the crime scene. That evidence led to Greenwell’s arrest. In phone calls from the jail to his family after his arrest on the murder charge, Greenwell said there was a “medical explanation” for the blood on his shoes.

Testimony supporting those opening statements is expected later in the trial.

But on Monday, jurors also heard testimony from Dr. Teresa Campbell, the forensic pathologist who conducted the autopsy on Peterson.

She testified that Peterson had seven significant traumatic head injuries that led to his death.

Campbell testified there were two specific circular wounds that could be consistent with the round end of a hammer, but at least one wound would be consistent with the claw end of a hammer.

Jurors also heard the beginning of Johnson City Police Sgt. Billy Church’s testimony and saw the first interview he conducted with Greenwell.

In that interview, at a time Greenwell was apparently not a solid suspect, Greenwell told Church he had only met Bill Peterson — whom he called Papa Bill — twice.

The conversation started out with the two talking about drug activity and where Greenwell had been purchasing pills in Johnson City. When Church finally told Greenwell what he was really there for, and showed him a photo of the crime scene, Greenwell acted surprised and denied any knowledge of Peterson’s death.

He promised Church he would keep his “ear to the ground” and call him if he heard anything. Greenwell also implicated Peterson’s daughter as a possible suspect in the killing.

The trial will resume today at 9 a.m.

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