Pelley conviction thrown out by Court of Appeals

Jeff Pelley was found guilty by a jury in 2006 for the 1989 murders of members of his family. Today, his conviction was thrown out by the Indiana Court of Appeals.

In April 1989, Reverend Robert, Dawn, Janel, and Jolene Pelley were all murdered in Lakeville. Jeff Pelley, then 17 years old, was a suspect in the murders.

Pelley was not charged with the crimes until August 10, 2002. He was found guilty by a jury in 2006. Prosecutors argued that Pelley shot his family members to avoid being grounded on the night of his high school prom.

By a vote of two to one, the Court of Appeals reversed the convictions. The majority of the court ruled that Pelley's motion to dismiss the case, before it ever went to trial, should have been granted.

The controversy developed around a subpoena that was issued on August 22, 2002. The State asked for records pertaining to the Pelley family from the Family and Children’s Center.

On February 26, 2003 the FCC filed a motion against the subpoena, saying the records were privileged based upon the counselor/client privilege. The prosecutor argued that since it was related to a homicide, the subpoena should stand.

After debates over those records were finally settled, a trial date of July 10, 2006 was agreed upon.

On January 4, 2006 Pelley filed a motion to dismiss under Indiana’s Criminal Rule 4(C).

Criminal Rule 4(C) states that a person charged with a crime has one year from the date he/she is charged to be brought to trial, unless the delay is caused by the defendant, by court congestion or by a court-declared “emergency.”

The court denied Pelley’s motion.

Pelley’s jury trial began on July 10, 2006. The jury found Pelley guilty and he was sentenced to serve consecutive 40 years sentences, totaling 160 years.

On Tuesday, the Indiana Court of Appeals reversed the 2006 conviction. In its written decision, the Court of Appeals said:

“This case confronts this Court with an extremely unpleasant but compelling responsibility. We realize that the defendant was ultimately convicted following an arduous jury trial. Such cases extract an enormous personal toll from the witnesses, jurors, and others participating. Resulting costs are significant and burden our taxpayers, and the time devoted to such trials and subsequent proceedings operate to delay the resolution of other pending controversies. It is with extreme reluctance that we must consider setting aside the defendant’s conviction, thus rendering futile the results of the jury trial which found the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Officials indicate that the Attorney General will file a petition for the Indiana Supreme Court to accept transfer of the case for an ultimate appellate review of decision made by the Court of Appeals.

The State has 30 days to make a decision to seek transfer to the Supreme Court.

To read the full opinion by the Court of Appeals, click on the link below.

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