Joseph Peck will spend his life in prison for killing his wife and leaving her body in her car trunk.
TAMPA - No one saw Joseph "Jody" Peck drive the claw hammer into his wife's skull. He left no fingerprints on the weapon. He claimed an elaborate alibi. Investigators, who dogged him for years, couldn't win a confession.
And as Peck stood trial this week, jurors did not hear of his violent past, nor that Jennifer Peck had sought to escape her marriage before her death.
What Hillsborough prosecutors had left to work with was a complex skein of circumstantial evidence implicating Peck, woven by Tampa detectives and state attorney investigators.
In the end, it was enough. Tuesday, almost eight years after the body of 24-year-old Jennifer Peck was discovered in the trunk of her car, jurors found Joseph Peck guilty of first-degree murder.
Hillsborough Circuit Judge William Fuente sentenced Peck, 37, to life without parole. The jury deliberated about six hours.
Last week, in her opening statement, prosecutor Suzy Rossomondo told jurors that when the pieces of the evidentiary puzzle came together, they would form Joseph Peck's face.
It was a theme she struck again in her closing argument Tuesday. As she enumerated the evidence against Peck, one by one she carried 12 jagged fragments of poster-board to a stand. She stuck each fragment to a spot labeled with a piece of the evidence.
Assembled, the picture formed a mug shot of Peck's face.
Jennifer Peck's body was found in the trunk of her Pontiac outside the Clique club in the 900 block of N Dale Mabry on Oct. 29, 1995. A passer-by claimed he saw, days earlier, a couple arguing by a car that matched the description of the Pontiac. And a cab driver said he had taken a man named "Joe" from the club to the airport.
Peck's attempts to construct an alibi became, in the prosecutors' hands, ammunition against him. After killing his wife, Peck flew to Oklahoma and left messages on his home answering machine, pretending to be calling for her. He volunteered the tape to police.
While Peck claimed he last saw his wife wearing an emerald tennis bracelet he had recently bought her, the bracelet later turned up in Peck's belongings. Prosecutors said a speck of Jennifer Peck's blood was found on his duffel bag.
Rossomondo argued that Joseph Peck left his wife's car parked outside the strip club - with his wife's body in the trunk, the key in the ignition and the window open - in the hopes that someone would steal it and take the fall for the murder.
Assistant Public Defender John Skye told jurors in his closing argument Tuesday that the evidence was in "confusion and disarray," and said the state had produced no evidence that the Pecks were having marital problems.
Skye cited a medical examiner's estimate that Jennifer Peck had been dead 12 hours to two days before her body was found. If so, he said, Joseph Peck would have been in Oklahoma or en route there when the murder occurred.
Jennifer Peck, a Bradenton woman and aspiring artist, had an appointment with crisis counselors scheduled for the day after her body was found.
Peck was charged with her murder in June, before he would have been released from prison in Oklahoma, where he was serving time for kidnapping and sexually assaulting a 16-year-old girl.
Jennifer Peck was 16 weeks pregnant when she was murdered. John Montroy, 59, her father, told the judge Tuesday of the words engraved on her gravestone:
"She left this life with life inside her."