On July 20, an Oregon appellate court overturned Keizer resident Peter Zielinsky’s murder conviction for the second time.
In 2013, the former Kroc Center employee was convicted of murdering his wife, Lisa as they were both getting ready for work. Testimony in the trial revealed his wife had been having an affair and was planning to leave him.
Zielinsky originally pled not guilty, but when Marion County Circuit Judge Dale Penn decided to exclude testimony related to the defendant’s mental health, he changed his plea to guilty on condition that he could appeal the decision.
Four years later, that conviction was reversed when an appeals court found Penn should have allowed the testimony. Nevertheless in 2019, Zielinsky was tried again, found guilty, and sentenced to life in prison by a Marion County jury.
However that second conviction was also overturned July 20, when appellate Judge Jacqueline Kamins found Marion County Circuit Judge Susan Tripp improperly allowed a prosecuting attorney to scrutinize the former clients of an expert witness in the 2019 trial – Portland psychologist Robert Stanilus.
Stanilus was one of two expert witnesses Zielinsky’s attorneys brought before the jury in the 2019 trial. He had testified that the defendant was “irreparably scarred” by his experiences in the US Marine Corps as part of Operation Desert Storm.
Kamin’s reasoning for reversing the conviction centers on the questioning Stanilus was given, and that of witnesses called to testify about his former clients and his own ability to remain objective. The defense attorneys objected at the time, but Tripp allowed the line of questioning – which began by asking Stanilus if he was biased toward military veterans.
The defense attorneys then asked a series of questions intended to cast doubt on the doctor’s objectivity based on the crimes of his former clients, also mostly veterans. This questioning of the doctor formed the basis for Zielinsky’s second successful appeal.
“Even if the state was entitled to point out that Dr. Stanilus was frequently retained in cases involving veterans, and that he regularly testified in favor of the defendant in those cases, the graphic specifics of those crimes . . . did nothing to undermine the accuracy of the diagnosis or to otherwise demonstrate bias,” Kamins wrote in her decision.
Zielinsky’s attorney Matthew Tracy had also called several USMC veterans who served with the defendant in Iraq during the first Gulf War. They told the jury harrowing stories of friendly-fire incidents such as his unit getting “carpet bombed” by allied aircraft, and fellow Marines getting buried alive in their fighting positions. Meanwhile prosecutors managed to establish that Zielinsky had previously threatened to kill Lisa if she left him. The jury sided with the prosecution.
For the moment, Zielinsky remains in state custody at Snake River Correctional Institute.