Key Players in the Larry Peterson CaseA look at some of the key players in the case of Larry Peterson, a New Jersey man who spent more than 17 years in prison before DNA testing cleared him of a 1987 rape and murder.
The case of Larry Peterson — his conviction, release from prison and fight for compensation — has spanned nearly two decades. Here is a guide to some of the key players:
Defendant and Defense Team
Larry Peterson: Peterson spent more than 17 years in prison for the 1987 rape and murder of 25-year-old Jacqueline Harrison in Pemberton, N.J. He was released in 2005 after DNA testing led a judge to overturn his conviction. Peterson, 56, is now fighting for compensation for wrongful imprisonment.
Larry Peterson discusses his background, saying he's 'never been a murderer.'
Vanessa Potkin: An attorney for the nonprofit Innocence Project, Potkin in 2003 won a motion to have Peterson's DNA tested against the physical evidence in his case, and led the team that secured his release from prison in 2005.
Vanessa Potkin, speaking in 2005, says authorities should focus on identifying the person whose DNA matches that from the crime scene, not on retrying Peterson.
William Buckman: A civil rights attorney in New Jersey, Buckman has represented Peterson since the fall of 2006. Buckman has filed two lawsuits on Peterson's behalf seeking compensation for the years he was imprisoned. Buckman does not expect to win compensation for several years.
William Buckman says he thinks egos, not evidence, have taken over Peterson's case.
Victim and Victim's Family
Jacqueline Harrison: The body of the 25-year-old mother of two was found in a field near her home in Pemberton, N.J., on Aug. 24, 1987. She had been raped and strangled. DNA testing that set Peterson free also revealed the presence of another male's DNA on samples taken from Harrison. That person has not been identified.
Patricia Harrison: Jacqueline Harrison's older sister remains convinced that Peterson is her sister's murderer. Since Peterson's release, Harrison has fought to maintain the death penalty in New Jersey.
Patricia Harrison: 'If I had my way, Mr. Peterson would be dead.'
Prosecution Team and Witnesses
Robert Bernardi: The current Burlington County prosecutor, Bernardi fought Peterson's claim to have his DNA tested, then sought to retry Peterson after a judge threw out the conviction post-DNA testing. He finally dropped all charges in 2006. Bernardi will not apologize to Peterson for the wrongful conviction, saying that DNA testing does not prove Peterson's innocence. His office now faces a civil lawsuit filed by Peterson for wrongful conviction.
Robert Bernardi talks to reporters in 2005 about his intent to retry Peterson, despite a weaker case.
Gail Tighe: Currently a senior forensic scientist in the New Jersey state crime laboratory, Tighe testified at Peterson's 1989 trial that the hairs found on the victim physically "compared" or "matched" to those of Peterson, providing key evidence against Peterson. Later DNA testing found that the hairs that "compared" to Peterson's belonged to the victim. Microscopic analysis of hair is now considered a screening tool only.
Robert Elder: Elder testified for the prosecution at Peterson's trial in 1989. At that time, Elder said that during a car ride together, Peterson bragged about the crime hours after it occurred. But in 2006, Elder recanted his original testimony, saying that he fabricated the incriminating testimony to get out of a lengthy police interrogation. He is currently awaiting trial on drug charges.
Robert Elder explains why he made up the story about Peterson committing the crime.