A Keizer man who admitted to killing his wife in 2011 has had his conviction for murder overturned — again — after the Oregon Apeals Court ruled Wednesday that prosecutors improperly questioned one of his expert witnesses at trial.
Peter J. Zielinski is serving a lifetime sentence in state prison for fatally shooting his 38-year-old wife, Lisa Zielinski, who he believed was having an affair with a coworker.
The father of two pleaded guilty to the murder in 2013 — but the verdict was reversed four years later after the state’s second-highest court determined defense witnesses should have been allowed to describe Zielinski’s anxiety disorder.
Zielinski, now 50, went on trial again in 2019, arguing that he wasn’t liable for his actions because he was suffering from an extreme emotional disturbance triggered by the post-traumatic stress disorder he picked up while serving in the U.S. Marines.
The new jury didn’t buy the argument, and the lifelong Keizer resident was convicted and received a lifetime behind bars with the possibility of parole in 25 years.
In a ruling released last week, appellate Judge Jacqueline Kamins found that Marion County Circuit Judge Susan Tripp improperly allowed a deputy district attorney to scrutinize the past clients of an expert witness hired by the defense during the second trial.
Prosecutors hammered home on Portland psychologist Robert Stanulis’ previous PTSD diagnoses of three other veterans, each of whom had been accused of horrific crimes in unrelated criminal matters.
The defense objected five different times to the cross examination, but were overruled.
“The graphic specifics of those crimes,” wrote Kamins, “did nothing to undermine the accuracy of the diagnoses or to otherwise demonstrate bias.”
Stanulis and another expert witness had testified that Zielinski, who joined the military at 18, was irreparably scarred after witnessing fellow American soldiers being wounded and killed during Operation Desert Storm.
Prosecutors, meanwhile, argued that Zielinski had previously threatened to kill his wife if she ever left him, and had injured his spouse during earlier arguments.
The Oregon Department of Justice and the Marion County District Attorney’s Office didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.
Zielinski remains in custody at the Snake River Correctional Institute in Ontario, as of Monday.
— Zane Sparling; firstname.lastname@example.org; 503-319-7083; @pdxzane