On March 22, 1994, 38-year-old Randy Chance, a roofer, was found slumped over the wheel of his truck, which was parked near Eppley Airfield in Omaha, Nebraska. He had been shot twice in the head.
Police arrested 23-year-old Kevin K. Peterson the following day and charged him with capital murder and the use of a firearm to commit a felony.
In September 1994, Peterson went on trial before Douglas County District Court Judge Michael McGill, who heard the case without a jury.
Prosecutors said that Peterson killed Chance because of a dispute over drugs.
Lanny Hicks, an acquaintance of Peterson and Chance, testified that he had been with both men on the day of the murder, and that the two left together in Chance’s truck. He said he followed the truck for a while and that it was headed toward the airport, and that later that day, he saw Peterson walking and gave him a ride.
A postal worker said that on the day of the murder, he was on his way to work at a mail handling facility near the airport when he saw a truck that fit the description of Chance’s truck. He said that he was 80 to 90 percent sure that Peterson was in the truck with Chance.
A crime lab analyst said a gun found in Peterson’s home was linked to the bullets found in Chance’s body.
Peterson testified in his own defense. He said that he got into the truck with Chance, but only rode as far as a nearby motel, where he had left his car. He said he then drove home where he babysat his children from 10:30 a.m. to noon while his wife was at a doctor’s appointment. He denied the gun was his.
Peterson testified that Hicks had been dealing drugs, but stopped after he was cut off by his supplier and that Chance tried to fill the void by selling drugs. Peterson said that the clothes the postal worker had described were the clothes that he put on the day after the murder and was wearing when he was arrested.
On September 21, 1994, Judge McGill found Peterson guilty.
Before a sentence was imposed, two new witnesses contacted Peterson’s defense attorney and said they were present when Chance was killed and that Peterson was not the gunman.
In March 1995, based on the new evidence, McGill set aside his verdict and ordered a new trial. The judge also found that the prosecution had failed to disclose to the defense a police report of a drive-by shooting a week prior to the trial. Defense lawyers claimed the shooting was an attempt to intimidate a witness.
Peterson went on trial a second time in December 1995, this time before a jury. Hicks and the postal worker again testified to seeing Peterson in the pickup truck with Chance.
A new witness testified that he and two other men were present when Chance was killed. The witness said that the man who shot Chance believed Chance had become a police drug informant and that he had been having an affair with the gunman’s girlfriend. The witness said that Peterson had been set up to appear as the killer.
Peterson again testified and denied shooting Chance. He maintained that after Chance dropped him off, he drove home.
In closing argument, Peterson’s attorney pointed out that the postal worker had testified that the truck he saw near the airport had front-end damage and that Chance’s truck was not damaged.
On December 21, 1995, the jury acquitted Peterson and he was released.
– Maurice Possley