Madison Police Chief Noble Wray professed pride in his department, and with good reason, but the official guardedness over details in the Joel Marino homicide did not abate. "This case," Wray told a press conference late this morning, "is still unfolding."
Police have arrested a 20-year-old UW-Madison dropout in Marino's stabbing death, one of three central-city murders in the past year apparently committed by strangers.
Adam C. Peterson was arrested Thursday near his hometown of Stillwater, Minn., outside of St. Paul. Peterson's DNA has purportedly matched DNA from the crime scene, including on the knife used to fatally wound Marino.
Marino was murdered inside his home on West Shore Drive, a few blocks south of Brittingham Park, on Jan. 28 at about 1 p.m. He was talking on the telephone to his grandmother, wishing her a happy birthday, when a man entered through the unlocked front door and stabbed Marino twice in the abdomen. Marino attempted to make it to St. Mary's Hospital, just yards away, but collapsed in an alley.
Wray said the case has been particularly difficult given heightened public scrutiny of investigation prompted in part by other unsolved murders but also by public complaints from Marino's parents over the progress of the investigation. Wray also said the nature of stranger murders makes investigations more difficult.
Police say they investigated 175 tips, compiled 3,000 mugshots of individuals, and identified 200 suspects. From an investigative standpoint, detectives had the benefit of having the murder weapon, the killer's DNA, and eyewitnesses who helped generate a sketch.
"We've had a lot of 'aha' moments that we've had to back away from," Wray said, adding that the arrest provides city residents with a "great sense of relief."
South District Capt. Jim Wheeler said today police do not believe Peterson knew Marino. Nor has any motive been established.
A criminal complaint (PDF) filed by the Dane County District Attorney's office today, charging Peterson with first-degree intentional homicide, provided few additional details.
Peterson was identified as a possible suspect after being flagged in a review of internal Madison Police Department lists of people with potential mental-health problems who've had police contact, Wray said.
As detectives sought to exclude him as a suspect, he became more appealing to them. "Things just kept coming together," said Wray. After finding additional unspecified "evidence," detectives obtained a warrant for Peterson's DNA, which was tested yesterday within hours.
Police today would not confirm a report in The Capital Times that Peterson had confessed to the murder. Nor would they state whether Peterson had been identified in a photo lineup by any individuals who reported seeing the suspect on the day of the crime.
Dane County District Attorney Brian Blanchard said Peterson is expected to waive his right to fight extradition. He could be booked into the Dane County Jail within days. Assistant District Attorney Corey Stephan has been assigned to prosecute the case.
Peterson apparently has no arrest record in Wisconsin. Police say he contacted them twice about the theft of his laptop. The first time was on Jan. 20, a week before Marino's murder; the second was on Feb. 25, when Peterson told an officer he needed a case number to get a replacement discount for a new computer.
A third contact was made after Peterson's roommates contacted police concerned about his well-being, Wheeler said. Police did not disclose the date of this contact, or the nature of the concerns. But they confirmed that it apparently took place after Marino's murder.
Police have not ruled out Peterson as a suspect in the April 2 homicide of Brittany Zimmermann, although Wray said today there is "no current forensic connection between this homicide and the Brittany Zimmermann homicide."
Police acknowledged they have not established an alibi for Peterson for April 2, the day Zimmermann was murdered.
Peterson graduated from Stillwater Area High School in 2006, and arrived in Madison last fall to take classes and had interests in psychology and music. He attended classes at the UW-LaCrosse during the 2006-07 school year, and spent last summer working at an attraction in Wisconsin Dells.
"I'm in shock," says Tom Diehl, owner of the Tommy Bartlett Show in the Wisconsin Dells, where Adam and Eric Peterson worked. "I've been here 41 years. These two were no different than any of the thousands who I've hired over the years."
Diehl says the brothers worked as ticket sellers and lived in employee housing on the Tommy Bartlett site. One of them -- Diehl doesn't remember which -- was fired for being chronically late. "They were two of the most passive people that you can imagine."
On his Facebook profile, Peterson listed as one of his favorite quotes: "My hope is in God."
Peterson apparently dropped out of UW-Madison after the first month of classes in the fall. He lived in a number of apartments in downtown Madison, including ones on South Bassett Street with his twin brother Eric, and the 400 block of West Main Street. He apparently moved home to Minnesota sometime in the third week of March.
Peterson's online profile face casts him as a young man with relatively normal interests, including references to spring break and Beer Pong. But it does contain a few allusions to marijuana and pills. And it contains a somewhat cryptic message from his brother Eric: "You'll have plenty of free time to ponder them [referent unclear]. Just don't start pondering them with a razor."
At the news conference this morning, Wray showered praise on his department, calling the work of lead Det. Matt Misener "unbelievable." He and Wheeler singled out more a dozen individuals for praise, and Mayor Dave Cieslewicz said the city had the "finest police department in the country."