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Convicted killer loses appeal

Peter G. Whyte, now 58, lost an appeal of a second-degree murder conviction that will keep him in prison until he turns 90.

In a decision filed Tuesday, May 12, Wisconsin’s District III Court of Appeals rejected Whyte’s second appeal of his conviction for stabbing his girlfriend, Suzanne Weiland, 39, to death at his Town of Star Prairie cabin Aug. 19-20, 2006.

Following a six-day trial in September 2007, a St. Croix County jury found Whyte guilty of second-degree intentional homicide. Two months later, Judge Eric Lundell sentenced Whyte to the maximum sentence: 40 years in state prison followed by 20 years extended supervision. He is now an inmate at Waupun Correctional Institution.

A medical examiner testified that Weiland was stabbed 19 times and that any one of eight wounds would have been fatal. Following the incident, Whyte, who claimed self-defense, underwent several hours of surgery to repair stab wounds in his stomach and chest.

In January 2013, acting as his own attorney, Whyte filed the more recent appeal, asking for sentence reduction or a new trial. He claimed he is entitled to one or the other, alleging unfair treatment because he was required to wear a stun belt at trial, prosecutorial misconduct, erroneous admission of other acts of evidence and ineffective assistance of both trial and appeal counsel.

The May 12 decision says Whyte admitted his trial attorney provided “a generally ‘stellar defense’” but claimed the lawyer was delinquent in failing to object to the visibility of the stun belt during the trial, failing to impeach witnesses who gave hearsay testimony, failing to challenge the omission of college students from the jury pool, failing to call witnesses to rebut and clarify testimony and failing to object when the prosecutor allegedly used Whyte’s post-Miranda silence to impeach him.

The decision says Whyte also faulted his attorney for failing to call an expert witness to testify regarding the reasonableness of Whyte’s use of force under the circumstances.

The appeals court rejected those arguments, saying that even if the attorney was deficient, Whyte failed to show that he was harmed by the alleged deficiencies.

The three-judge appeals panel wrote, “As noted in our decision affirming Whyte’s conviction on direct appeal, there was overwhelming evidence of Whyte’s guilt, including the size disparity between Whyte and the victim; the victim’s intoxication; and the sheer number of stab wounds the victim suffered, many of which could have been independently fatal.

“In light of the overwhelming evidence of Whyte’s guilt, trial counsel’s alleged deficiencies — either individually or collectively — do not undermine our confidence in the outcome at trial.”

In asking for a sentence reduction, Whyte claimed that Lundell misconstrued testimony when concluding the defendant could have left the scene rather than stabbing the woman.

Whyte claimed the judge focused on Tom Belisle’s testimony that the defendant said Weiland “wigged out” on him and he “should have just walked.”

Whyte said he was not referring to his ability to walk away from the attack that led to the woman’s death but rather was saying that he could have left the relationship.

“Whyte claims the court’s misunderstanding of the ‘walking away’ comment continued at sentencing when the court later stated Whyte ‘had the wherewithal to walk away and … didn’t,’” says the appeal decision. “The court’s observation, however, followed a discussion with Whyte about his and the victim’s relative intoxication levels at the time of the altercation. Whyte claimed he had ‘a beer and a half, and a couple shots,’ while the victim had a blood alcohol concentration of 0.31 percent at the time of her death.”

The appeals decision concluded, “Our review of the record convinces us that the central controversy in this case, including the issue of self-defense, was fully vetted at trial. The jury was presented with and rejected Whyte’s theory. Nothing Whyte has presented in this appeal persuades us that a new trial … is warranted.”

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.