WASHINGTON COUNTY - A former Washington County resident is hoping new technology will exonerate him of the 1996 brutal beating of an Ebro woman.
John David Peterson has served more than 20 years of a 30-year term handed down in December 1997 by Judge Russell Cole for attempted murder and armed robbery with a deadly weapon.
The sentence came after two trials, due to the first resulting in a hung jury. Peterson, who was 33 at the time of his sentencing, was mandated to serve 15 years for each count, followed by 15 years probation and 300 hours of community service.
According to law enforcement reports, Peterson admitted to Washington County deputies that on July 18, 1996, he entered Marlow's Bait & Tackle, located on Captain Fritz Road in Ebro, and struck 71-year-old storeowner, Monette D. Anderson, in the head "with an unknown weapon, attempting to kill the victim" and "left her for dead."
Records go on to say Peterson tried but failed to access the cash register before stealing Anderson's .22 caliber pistol from behind the counter and a 12-pack of beer.
Anderson was found by a customer shortly after and was ultimately transported to an area hospital's intensive care unit.
Peterson would later recant his confession in trial, naming two other men he states he witnessed commit the crime.
Former Sheriff Danny Hasty said in a 1996 statement to the Washington County News that valuable evidence led to Peterson's arrest less than three days following the attack.
Some of that evidence - specifically four hairs found at the scene - is at the epicenter of a request filed on Peterson's behalf by Marianna attorney Barbara Jean Throne for post-conviction DNA testing.
Throne cited trial transcripts in a June 15 evidentiary hearing, telling Circuit Judge Timothy Register that a Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) DNA analysis of blood evidence found at the scene exonerated Peterson, and that the four hairs - submitted during trial proceedings as state's evidence 17 - did not conclusively tie Peterson to the crime.
"The testimony (of the FDLE DNA Analyst) was inconclusive as to how the hairs were connected to Mr. Peterson other than they belonged to the category of a Black American, which clearly Mr. Peterson is," Throne said.
Washington County Sheriff's Office Crime Scene Investigator Gene Wills was able to locate an envelope associated with the evidence - two vials containing DNA extract from the hairs.
Throne says she is hopeful that evidence can still be used for evaluation.
Anderson passed away in recent years, but her grandson was present at the hearing but declined to comment.
Pamela Andrews, a spokesperson for Peterson's family, says the reopening of the case is "a day they've prayed for."
"We prayed and trusted in our belief in our God to bring this case back into the court system," said Andrews. "It is very heartening that it is here but it is also sad that 21 years of a person's life can be taken at the drop of a dime. Based on the evidence and DNA testing, we find our deepest fear - that there was injustice done in the process."
"In the future, we are standing as a family and a community behind John David Peterson. But no matter what the outcome is, it will not give back the things he has lost from not being in society for all those years."