Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Rhodes acquitted on murder charges after afternoon of deliberations

In Spokane County Superior Court Judge Timothy Fennessy’s courtroom, Pierre D. Rhodes, 23, was found not guilty Monday of first-degree murder in the killing of James H. Peterson, 41, on July 4, 2020, in a homeless camp in Mead last year.  (COLIN MULVANY/THE SPOKESMAN-REVI)

A jury acquitted Pierre Rhodes, 23, of murder after an afternoon of deliberations Monday.

After the verdict was read, Rhodes hung his head before smiling and turning to shake hands with Public Defender Colin Charbonneau.

Rhodes was charged with first-degree murder for the killing of James H. Peterson, 41, over a stolen bike at a Mead homeless camp last year.

Peterson’s family was tearful in court as the verdict was read. They declined comment to The Spokesman-Review.

On Monday morning, the defense rested its case after Rhodes decided not to testify over the weekend. In his closing argument, Prosecutor Stephen Garvin argued that Rhodes killed Peterson and stole a bike from his tent.

Garvin pointed to Robert Tolliver’s testimony that he had gone with Rhodes to Peterson’s camp to steal bike parts and left as Rhodes was entering Peterson’s tent. Tolliver, 38, was initially charged with first-degree murder in connection to Peterson’s death but pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of conspiracy to commit first-degree robbery as part of a plea agreement.

Surveillance footage showed Tolliver leaving the area alone with bike tires, Garvin pointed out. Rhodes was then seen on surveillance footage about a half-hour later leaving with Peterson’s bike, Garvin said.

The most significant piece of evidence the prosecution had was Rhodes’ palm print on the DeWalt power grinder believed to be the murder weapon, Garvin said. Charbonneau argued that Rhodes could have left that print on the grinder at any time prior to the murder.

The prosecution also pointed to the lack of evidence that Tolliver committed the crime. Garvin said detectives “exhaustively evaluated” clothes, the bike tires, and other items taken from Tolliver and didn’t find any blood.

The defense argued that Tolliver had a strong motive to kill Peterson. Tolliver and Peterson had a history of confrontations over stolen property.

In January 2020, Peterson allegedly maced Tolliver and his dog during a confrontation over stolen property. Tolliver hit Peterson before running off to find his dog, which was hit by a car.

Tolliver acted strangely the day after Peterson’s death, telling a friend he was probably going to prison for the rest of his life, Charbonneau said.

The prosecution said it was Rhodes who acted strangely by deciding to stay in a hotel across town from the homeless camp.

The defense argued that Rhodes had nothing to hide, even making an “active effort” to check in with his Department of Corrections supervisor.

Jurors deliberated from 11 a.m. to just before 4 p.m. before returning the not guilty verdict.