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Man Acquitted Twice Begins Third Trial in Shotgun Slayings

February 19, 1992

VALPARAISO, Ind. (AP) _ A man acquitted of three shotgun slayings went on trial Tuesday on two more murder charges stemming from a series of killings in northwestern Indiana a year ago.

Christopher D. Peterson, a black man arrested after police said they were looking for a white suspect, originally was charged with a series of seven slayings in January 1991. He was arrested in a separate restaurant holdup.

Jury selection in Peterson’s third trial began Tuesday in Porter Superior Court in the shooting deaths of a gas station attendant Harchand S. Dhaliwal, 54, on Dec. 13, 1990, and motel clerk Marie Meitzler, 48, two days later.

Judge Thomas Webber said it could take up to five days to choose the jurors. A gag order prevented attorneys from talking about the case.

Last year, Peterson was acquitted in two separate trials of the slayings of Rhonda Hammersley, 25, Lawrence Mills, 43, and Ora L. Wildermuth, 54. Jurors in both trials said they were confused about the gunman’s race.

Peterson was acquitted mainly because he is a dark-skinned black man, said defense attorney Jerry T. Jarrett.

Police based their initial sketch of the suspect on a description by an eyewitness, who said she saw a white man shoot Hammersley.

Lake County Deputy Prosecutor Ralph W. Staples Jr. said jurors should have considered evidence that a sawed-off shotgun seized at Peterson’s house was linked by ballistics experts with spent shell casings found near the bodies.

But the evidence was withheld after a judge ruled Peterson’s robbery arrest illegal and all related evidence inadmissible.

Peterson will be tried for the other two murders later.

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