‘Sorry won’t change what I’ve done’

Peter Zielinski takes the stand in his re-trial for the alleged murder of his wife.

In the end, Peter Zielinski gained no ground in his attempt at a second trial for the murder of his wife. He was again sentenced to 25 years to life in prison with the possibility of parole after 25. 

Zielinski arrived in Judge Susan Tripp’s courtroom on Thursday, Sept. 5, in a suit and chains. It was the same courtroom where he had for the previous two weeks been tried for killing his wife, Lisa Zielinski, on Jan. 12, 2011. The jury had determined that he was guilty of murder in less than three hours. 

Zielinski was in the courtroom again to receive his sentence. The gallery was packed with family members and police officers who had worked the case.

The sentencing began with the defense objecting for the record that the prosecution had sought to negate the testimony of their experts, psychologist Robert Stanulis and sociologist William Brown. They had done so by presenting information that both men had previously testified as expert witnesses in other cases against defendants who were veterans and who had been diagnosed with PTSD by Stanulis.

Tripp overruled the objection. 

The prosecution, led by Katie Suver, asked the court to impose a sentence of 25 years to life. They further asked that Zielinski serve 25 years before he would be eligible for parole with no early release for good behavior and that he not be allowed to participate in alternative incarceration programs.

The defense, led by Matthew Tracey, asked that the judge consider their client’s circumstances. He argued that while Measure 11 is a baseline, or guide, it is not the definitive basis for which sentencing must occur. 

The attorney appealed to Tripp to take into consideration Zielinski’s exemplary military service and that he had served with distinction, that he had no prior criminal history and that he had been diagnosed with PTSD by Stanulis. 

Describing the proposed sentence of 25 years to life as “cruel and unusual punishment,” Tracey asked the judge to “go over and above” what the law suggested and set a precedent by imposing only 10 years of jail time. He continued by stating that this was an opportunity for the judge to set a precedent showing that the court does not have to be tied to the Measure 11 law.

Suver argued that this was the standard sentence for murder cases similar to Zielinski’s. She cited several cases as precedent to demonstrate her point that the Measure 11 standard is not unconstitutional and is not cruel and unusual punishment when applied to Zielinski.

 “The defense’s counsel wants to rely on the extreme emotional distress testimony which was discounted by the jury,” Suver said.

Tripp said that the jury had ruled that the defendant was not under extreme emotional distress, that he had intentionally and with malice shot his wife in the head. 

“He killed an innocent person. He took the mother of his children,” Tripp said denying the defense’s motion. She added that there are people who would think that a sentence of 25 years to life was not enough of a punishment for his crimes. 

Suver also asked the judge to impose restitution of $9,495.74 for medical bills, site cleanup, adoption fees and insurance fees. The judge granted this motion.

Tracey then requested that the judge consider the eight years that Zielinski had previously been incarcerated as time served and she agreed.

Zielinski’s defense attorneys asked the court to waive their legal fees. Tripp asked the defendant if he had worked while previously incarcerated. He replied he had. She then asked him how much he earned. He responded that he had worked two different jobs while incarcerated with the most recent one paying him $140 a month. She then asked how much the defendant owed his attorneys. Zielinski’s attorneys responded that the defendant would owe $9,757.

The judge denied the defense attorney’s request to waive the fees stating that the defendant should be able to pay them over the next 17 years.

Family members stepped forward to address the court and the defendant once both the state and defense had made their arguments for sentencing. Debra Geddes, the victim’s sister, spoke first.

“Our relationship changed to accommodate you,” Geddes said describing how the defendant had managed and monitored his wife’s communication and visits with her family. “Even after she has died we have had to accommodate you. We’ve had to watch our lives unfold in the media.”  

“Your family can still hug you and share their lives with you, instead our family marks anniversaries, days we will not share with her,” she said.

“Take responsibility for your actions and let this family heal,” Geddes concluded.

Geddes was followed by Zielinski’s oldest daughter, Hunter Montague and Hunter’s mother Tami Montague. 

“This was the most traumatic event that I’ve ever experienced. I am devastated. I will never forgive him for this,” Hunter said.

“It has been eight years, seven months and 24 days since you turned Hunter’s would upside down and now you’ve continued to turn her world upside down. She’s never gotten over that. You took away someone who was there for her,” Tami Montague said.

Rhonda Tupper, Lisa Zielinski’s mother, spoke next. 

“I am Lisa’s grieving mother and you are an unspeakable monster. You took away Payton’s mother and Hunter’s stepmother and you took my only biological child. I will always despise you,” Tupper told the defendant. 

Once the family had finished with their statements Zielinski asked if he could make a statement. The judge granted his request. He addressed his words to various members of Lisa Zielinski’s family.

“To Mrs. Tupper, no words can undo what I did. I know what she was to you and what you were to her,” Zielinski said. He went on to tell the victim’s sister, Debra Geddes, that he was sorry for taking Lisa from her. He told his children that he had failed them 

“I am sorry to you all but sorry won’t change what I’ve done,” he finished. 

The judge then addressed the family who were sitting in the gallery. 

“I am so sorry. No one should have to endure what you have endured. I am aware of the devastation this man has brought to your family. He shot her because she was a possession and the possession no longer wanted to be possessed,” Tripp said.

At that point, Tripp formally announced that Zielinski was sentenced to 25 years to life for the murder of Lisa Zielinski with no early release or alternative incarceration programs and no option for parole until he has served the first 25 years.