A 19-member Mendocino County criminal Grand Jury was selected in late July, 2017 to determine whether there was “strong suspicion” that Dr. Peter Keegan had murdered his wife, Susan. That is the legal requirement to support an indictment leading to an arrest and trial.
The charge being considered was second-degree murder. Beginning on August 1st and continuing for more than a week, 17 witnesses – law enforcement officials, forensic pathologists, a private investigator, friends, family members, and the defendant – testified under oath, against the penalty of perjury.
Prosecutor Timothy Stoen from the Mendocino County District Attorney’s Office conducted the hearing. Stoen was legally obligated to present not only the evidence against Peter Keegan, but anything that appeared to exculpate him. A minimum of 12 jurors had to vote in favor of an indictment, but considerably more actually did so, and Keegan was indicted on August 9, 2017. Following his arrest, he was arraigned in Ukiah on August 11th. Trial preparations are underway.
Excerpts from more than 700 pages of publicly available Grand Jury testimony are presented here. The quotes are verbatim from the transcript, with pagination noted. In the interest of coherence, we do not always use ellipses to indicate a break in the quotes, but nothing has been taken out of context.
The full transcripts are available online:
Volume 1, August 1, 2017, pages 1-178
Volume 2, August 2, 2017, pages 179-288
Volume 3, August 4, 2017, pages 289-422
Volume 4, August 7, 2017, pages 423-497
Volume 5, August 8, 2017, pages 498-716
Volume 6, August 9, 2017, pages 717-732
Morning after Susan Keegan’s Death
When police and fire officials arrived at the Keegan house on the morning of November 11, 2010, in response to Peter Keegan’s 911 calls, Susan’s back rested against a bathroom sink vanity, as if she had fallen backwards and struck her head as she fell. But there were numerous indications that the scene had been staged, the site cleaned up, and the body moved from another location, according to various witnesses.
Among the signs that all was not as it first appeared: The presence of multiple head and hand injuries on Susan’s body; the unlikely position of her body; the lack of blood that would ordinarily accompany head wounds; and discoloration in her hands inconsistent with how they had swelled. First responders also reported that Peter Keegan’s demeanor was “peculiar” and photographs submitted as evidence suggest he was under the influence of narcotics. (pp. 82, 106-07, 362, 376, 686).
Nonetheless, the police handled the call as a routine “coroner’s case,” rather than a criminal matter, allowing key evidence to be lost – and helping to explain the seven-year gap from Susan’s murder to Peter’s indictment.
Scott Poma (Chief Deputy Coroner, Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office): “There were so many things that should have sent up markers that it’s a tragedy.” (p. 376)
Jacqueline Rainwater (Deputy Sheriff/Coroner, Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office: “The nature of the injuries did not match the amount of blood that we found on the scene. Head injuries bleed a lot, even small ones, and these were very large. There was a very minimal amount of blood that was on the scene. Those two things did not correlate.” (p. 79)
Rainwater, describing the lacerations on Susan’s body: “She had one just past the hairline on her head that was about an inch long, and then she had an extremely large one in the back of her head. My experience and training makes me feel that there was somebody else involved in this, and that she was assaulted.” (p. 95)
Rainwater: Peter Keegan “looked and talked like he was under the influence of something. You can see this in his eyes. And the way he was talking, he was very flat in his voice. He had a lot of white pasty around his mouth. When he was talking, it’s like someone has cottonmouth, they make that kind of smacking noise. All that would be consistent with being under the influence of something.” (p. 82)
Jay Beristance (Battalion Chief, Ukiah Valley Fire District): Keegan “seemed very unconcerned and wasn’t acting normal for somebody who just lost their spouse.” (p 50)
Rainwater: Keegan’s “statements and his demeanor were very odd, off. We found it very odd, suspicious. That made us more cautious.” Rainwater also said that Keegan expressed no sorrow about his wife’s death. (pp. 69, 90)
Rainwater: “He had some marks on his hands, a couple little nicks that you could see looked fairly new. He said he has a cat.” (p. 102) [Aside: Peter later told friends that when the police asked him about the scratches, he alleged they resulted from gardening.]
Cause of Death
The autopsy was conducted by Jason Trent, who initially concluded the cause of death was due to a fall, and later revised his findings to state that an assault had occurred.
Jay Chapman was brought in as a forensic consultant and reached his conclusion that Susan had been assaulted by visiting the Keegan home and by reviewing photographs and other documentation. He described multiple lacerations, abrasions, and contusions on Susan’s body and concluded categorically : “All of these injuries could not possibly have been caused by falling. There are just too many of them.” (p. 681)
(Aside: Chapman is a world-renowned pathologist. The Sheriff’s office initially asked him for a second opinion, but decided his $750 fee was too expensive; only the DA’s willingness to pay that top dollar at a later point bought his indispensable expertise. [p. 656])
Jason Trent, forensic pathologist: “Based on further examination of recent and old historical fact, photographs, documents, district attorney’s investigations and consultation with other forensic pathologists, new conclusions are made. The pattern of injuries in this case are not consistent with originating by accidental means. They are most consistent with those of an assault.” (p. 207)
Jay Chapman, forensic pathologist, describing evidence that can be seen in photographs: “She is alleged to have fallen backwards on the sharp edge of the counter. That would not be consistent with this injury, because this injury is vertical…. Under the scalp there’s all this massive hemorrhage. One cannot get hemorrhage of this nature by a single blow or two blows. This is the result of multiple blows to the head. It just cannot occur otherwise.” (pp. 661-62)
“The force that was applied to produce this laceration was not a straight-on blow. It was from the left to the right, which caused the skin to tear loose on the right side.” (p. 661)
“The injuries to her hands resulted from some object striking them. The most reasonable way that these injuries incurred were by her trying to defend herself from blows to the head.” (p. 672)
“Abrasions that occur when you’re alive, they’re reddish-brown [but those on Susan’s body] are yellowish and they look parchment-like. They are injuries that occurred after this woman was dead. Those could indicate very much that the body was moved postmortem.” (p. 668)
Chapman’s decisive conclusion: “This was certainly not a case that was due to accidental means because of the nature and distribution of the injuries.” (p. 655)
The Grand Jury testimony from a number of witnesses made clear the extent to which the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office botched the initial investigation.
Among the basics that went undone the morning Susan died, the officers should have: called detectives to ask that they investigate a suspicious death; secured the residence until those detectives arrived; obtained blood samples from Peter Keegan to test for drug use; searched the garbage for rags or towels that might have been used to clean up blood; seized computers; looked for the clothing Susan wore that night; and hunted for a possible weapon. (pp. 360-64, 374)
“That’s all the stuff we lost because of not doing the first initial investigation and treating it like a coroner’s case instead of a homicide,” said Scott Poma of the Sheriff’s Office. (p. 375)
Poma, describing an attempt to bring Susan’s death to the attention of criminal investigators in the Sheriff’s Office: “I went to Sergeant Van Patten, told him that this death looked like an assault, it looked like a homicide, and he told me that he was not interested… basically because we have lost all of the evidence at the house.” (p. 364)
Poma, asked whether “due diligence” had been followed in this case: “No. And that’s our fault – that’s the Sheriff’s Office’s fault, no one else’s.”
Jay Chapman: I don’t like criticizing another pathologist, but what surprised me most was the fact that he [Jason Trent] did not document all of these injuries and he did not shave the scalp. He did not make incisions into the injuries of the hands.” (p. 678)
Peter Keegan’s Behavior
Witnesses testified that Peter Keegan seemed enraged and manic in October 2010, the month before Susan died. He pushed a private investigator to hack into Susan’s computer, despite learning that such action was illegal. He also appeared uninvited on the doorsteps of friends to complain that Susan refused to have sex with him and that she was abusing a potent mix of alcohol and drugs. One witness called Peter’s behavior “completely abnormal.” (pp. 264, 300, 470)
Later, when Peter reported Susan’s death to friends, his tone was “hard and cold,” but in the months that followed his mood lightened considerably, and he seemed celebratory (pp. 278, 320).
Michael Herman, licensed private investigator, describing Peter Keegan’s request that he break into Susan’s laptop in October 2010: “I told him I cannot access her email and I would not hack it. I had to repeatedly tell him no. And then he asked me if I would put spyware on her computer. I told him no, that it would be illegal.
“He did ask me several times. And then later, after he had left, he had called me back and offered me additional money if I would rethink my position on the spyware.” (pp. 300-01)
[Aside: In a clear act of perjury, Peter Keegan told the court he had not asked Herman to hack into Susan’s personal account or to install spyware. (pp. 595-96)]
Mary Pierce, Susan’s friend, testifying about an unexpected late-night visit from Peter in October: “He was really articulating passionately that Susan had a drug and alcohol problem and that she had destroyed their marriage. He was manic, he was insistent, desperate to have us hear his story. He seemed very over the top, energetic, very animated.” (p. 470)
Oni LaGioia, Susan’s friend, quoting an October telephone call from Peter in her testimony: “He said he had a fucking right to sex with his wife whenever he wanted…. That he wanted this divorce to happen before the end of the year, he hated her, and he couldn’t have sex with anyone else until he got rid of her.” (p. 264)
LaGioia, after Susan’s death, quoting Peter as having said: “The boys [the couple’s sons] are here and they want to have a memorial service. I don’t give a fuck, but they want to have a memorial service and they want you to sing.” (p. 270)
Linda Ettinger Puls, Susan’s sister, testifying about Peter’s behavior at a dinner before the memorial: “He was congenial and talkative and outgoing and laughing and smiling. It was almost as if it was a wedding rehearsal dinner that he was hosting, or a cocktail party.” (p. 127)
Karyn Feiden, Susan’s cousin, testifying about a months-long email exchange with Keegan that began within days of Susan’s death: “He was creating this portrait of the Susan nobody knew. If Susan was that much of a drug user, if Susan was that bad to him, if Susan was this hidden person that none of us had ever seen before, then surely her death made good sense. It seemed very self-serving.” (p. 331)
Scattered throughout Keegan’s emails to Feiden were repeated mentions of what a great time he was having in widowhood. “Great party up in Tahoe… Lots of yoga, elliptical trainer, and doing my weight lifting program… And dancing; social dancing (cha-cha-, east coast swing, foxtrot, waltz) is my new super happy time… Life is much better and improving all the time.”
The Defendant Speaks
Against the advice of his attorney, Peter Keegan chose to testify before the Grand Jury.
A Voice of One: Keegan has always been a lone voice telling friends and family that Susan was depressed and suicidal. When he appeared in court, he spoke almost exactly the same well-rehearsed words he had used years earlier to describe a Susan no one else had ever seen. He spent much of his time on the stand digging back into Susan’s past to recount family woes and speculating about what might be revealed in her emails, which he had tried unsuccessfully to access. (p. 540)
He was especially fixated on a three-page piece of Susan’s writing from 2000 that he claimed to have discovered in a file cabinet. He titled this her “poem of self-loathing” and told the court it revealed previously hidden truths about Susan’s “dislike for her life.” (pp. 523, 530)
Time had not erased his resentment, and he also devoted considerable energy before the Grand Jury to repeating old complaints about trivial slights, such as how Susan would open a window above his bed at night and pull the covers off him so that he awoke cold and congested. (p. 577)
In her testimony, Mary Pierce painted a very different portrait of a kind and forward-looking friend. On her last night alive, Susan joined Mary and her husband, Will Baty, in Santa Rosa for a home-cooked meal (chicken tagine with lemons and olives). After a single drink, the three sat side by side in the living room, discussing community property laws, Susan’s likely post-divorce financial situation, and possible housing opportunities. “It was a serious working evening. We talked with quite a bit of detail. She was totally clear and observant, paying attention. She took quite a few notes.” (pp. 474-76)
Their evening together ended at about 9PM. As Mary and Will walked Susan out to her car, Susan admired the water lilies still blooming in the front pond. “She stopped and admired them, and just commented on how beautiful they were…. It was a nice night. We were sorry she wasn’t staying with us, and that she was determined to go home.” As Susan opened the door to her car, Mary hugged her tight, and said, simply, “Susan, I love you.” (pp. 474-76)
A few hours later, Susan was dead.
Every witness with a personal relationship to Susan contradicted Peter’s claims of drug addiction (128, 266, 343). Gary Hudson, former undersheriff in the Sheriff’s Office, is an amateur actor and appeared with Susan in the production of Hamlet, which completed its run a few days before she died. “I didn’t detect any kind of slurring, anything to indicate that she was under the influence of anything, whether alcohol or prescription or illicit drugs… At the cast party, she was completely in charge, she ran the whole thing, she cooked everything.” (pp. 459-60)
Peter Keegan also claimed that Susan “hated working.” That, too, was contradicted by those who knew her. Karyn Feiden had lined up a promising freelance writing opportunity for her and testified, with supporting documentation, about Susan’s enthusiasm for the prospect (pp. 330, 600).
Bizarre and Belligerent Testimony: Much of Peter Keegan’s testimony before the Grand Jury was patently bizarre, such as his insistence on reading entries from Susan’s diaries dating back almost two decades (the most recent from 1999) to support his claim that she was deeply unhappy. He tagged these “dark diaries,” but investigators had already inspected them and concluded they contained nothing relevant (pp. 429, 513).
As he read some of the entries aloud, refusing to pause for Prosecutor Tim Stoen’s questions, Keegan sometimes sounded so belligerent that Stoen twice had to remind him, “you are not in charge here.” When Stoen tried to ask something, Keegan complained, “You’re interrupting me. Can you reserve your question until I’m finished reading the document? I’m sure you are smart enough to remember the question.” (pp. 532, 536)
The diary entries were part of a peculiar set of documents Peter had submitted to Prosecutor Stoen as “exculpatory evidence.” Also in the package were gratuitous insults of Susan’s parents, a description of a high-school affair Susan had more than 40 years earlier, and a five-paragraph riff on the history of Oni LaGioia’s relationships with men. None of that appeared to have any relevance, and Stoen got no substantive answer when he asked Peter why he thought otherwise. (pp. 547, 558-59, 562)
Surprised?: Keegan claimed to be unaware that Susan’s death certificate had been changed in 2012 to state explicitly that the cause of her death was “homicide.” Given the media attention and community buzz that accompanied that change, his claim defies credibility, although it is unclear what he stands to gain by making it. (pp. 615-16)
His complaint that he is being forced to transfer much of his estate to his defense attorney, who charges $450/hour, rather than to family members, is simply sad (p. 609). Perhaps Peter should have considered that possible cost seven years ago.
Dr. Peter Keegan is now a seriously ill man with terminal cancer, and perhaps his rage is spent. But the deception that began weeks before Susan’s death continues to this day, through his appearance before the Grand Jury and beyond. Absent a plea for forgiveness, accompanied by a confession, any feelings of compassion as he confronts the end of his life are quickly tempered by a stark truth: As the weight of the evidence presented to the Grand Jury clearly shows, Peter Keegan stole Susan Keegan’s life from her, and diminished us all.