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District court upholds Whyte 2007 stabbing conviction

The overwhelming evidence of Peter G. Whyte's guilt in killing Suzanne Weiland in August 2006 makes any alleged error in admitting hearsay evidence harmless, ruled an appeals court.

In a decision released Tuesday, Wisconsin's District III Court of Appeals affirmed a St. Croix County jury's verdict, convicting Whyte, 54, of second-degree intentional homicide. He is currently serving a 40-year term in Waupun Correctional Institution.

The Weiland family received the decision "with a profound sense of relief," according to a statement issued by her brother, Patrick Weiland.

"Sue's killer will remain in prison under his sentenced term of 40 years with no chance for early parole ... While we all believed in our hearts that the trial and the jury did the right thing in convicting Peter three years ago, his ongoing appeal hung over us like a dark cloud."

Prosecutors charged Whyte, Somerset, with first-degree intentional homicide and the lesser-included crime of second-degree intentional homicide.

By finding him guilty of the lesser charge, jurors concluded that Whyte believed the force he used was necessary to protect himself, but that his belief was unreasonable, wrote the three-judge appeals panel. The panel added that none of testimony Whyte challenged had any bearing on the jury's determination as to whether the force he used was reasonable.

Whyte had argued that testimony from three people "tarred" his character, thus affecting whether the jury believed him.

"We are not persuaded," wrote the court. "In light of the evidence -- including their size disparity, Weiland's intoxication and the sheer number of stab wounds Weiland suffered, many of which could have been independently fatal -- it is wholly inconceivable that a jury could find that any subjective belief Whyte had regarding the amount of force used was reasonable."

In September 2007, the St. Croix jury found Whyte guilty of killing Weiland, his longtime girlfriend. She was 5 ft. 7 inches tall and weighed 150 pounds. He was 6 ft. 4 inches tall and weighed 283 pounds.

The doctor who performed the autopsy testified that she suffered 19 knife wounds, several of which would have caused her death.

According to Whyte, Weiland often stayed out all night without him and came home drunk. He said three times in the month previous to her death she had come home intoxicated and threatened to kill him.

On the night of Aug. 20, the couple came home after an evening of drinking. Whyte said Weiland wanted to have sex but he refused and she became angry.

He said he went for a walk, and when he returned, she attacked him with a knife. The ensuing fight involved two knives and repeated injuries to both. Whyte claimed he was afraid for his life, was badly injured and believed Weiland wanted to kill him so he stabbed her until she stopped struggling.

He didn't dispute that she died as a result of the fight but claimed he was acting in self-defense.

Whyte challenged the admission of testimony from Weiland's brother and mother and a friend. That testimony included reports that Weiland said she hadn't liked having sex with Whyte, that he had beaten and raped her and that she planned to leave him.

In his appeal Whyte claimed that admission of the hearsay evidence violated his right to confront his accuser. But the appeals court did not address his arguments because it found that none of the challenged statements "bear on the jury's determination whether the amount of force used was reasonable."

In their statement, the Weiland family thanked St. Croix County district attorney's staff and especially ADA Frank Collins for "dedication and passion in seeking justice for Sue."

The statement continued, "We miss her terribly still but are grateful for dedicated and compassionate law enforcement professionals in St. Croix County in seeking justice for Sue.

"With this ruling, it's nice to say: It is finally over."

Judy Wiff

Judy Wiff has been regional editor for RiverTown’s Wisconsin newspapers since 1996. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism and sociology from UW-River Falls. She has worked as a reporter for several weekly newspapers in Wisconsin.

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