Jeff Pelley has been tried and convicted of the so-called Lakeville murders, but will the case continue to hold up in court?
Members of the Indiana Supreme Court have the final say. Today five justices heard oral arguments on Pelley’s appeal.
Jeff Pelley was not in the courtroom.
Pelley is serving a 160-year prison sentence for the 1989 shotgun murders of four family members in their Lakeville home.
At trial, it was alleged that Pelley killed his father, step-mother, and two young step-sisters to avoid being grounded on prom night.
Today’s Indiana Supreme Court proceedings had nothing to do with the guilt or innocence of Jeff Pelley.
The discourse had nothing to do with the four murder victims.
Instead, today the focus was on five men in black robes: Indiana Supreme Court justices who have the power to wipe the slate clean with a single ruling.
“At stake is whether the defendant's four murder convictions remain intact or not,” said Indiana Deputy Attorney General Ellen Meilaender. “If the court rules in our favor those convictions will be reinstated, if the court of appeals decision stands, then the charges will have to be dismissed and he'll be free to go.”
If Jeff Pelley’s attorney can beat the clock—her client can beat the rap.
“By my calculations from the time of the arrest to the time of the trial of the defendant, it took about four years is that right?” questioned Justice Brent E. Dickson during the proceedings.
Today’s arguments were all about Jeff Pelley’s rights as a criminal defendant: Jeff Pelley’s rights to a speedy trial.
“The obvious answer is in the rule itself, the rule says if Jeff Pelley didn't cause the delay, he should not be attributed with it, and he did not cause it,” said Pelley defense attorney Stacy Uliana.
Meilaender countered that “the court has recognized that at times when a snowstorm prevents jurors from arriving at the courtroom, the judge has to be disqualified and there’s no judge to hear the case, those are situations where neither party took any act that resulted in the delay.”
Keeping the case together now hinges on putting the Pelley delay into the same “emergency” category.
In this case, the emergency was a pre-trial search for Pelley family counseling records.
“Jeff never hid this thing. This is not some secret counseling records, he told them the day after the murders ‘hey I did go to counseling with my parents. It was a normal counseling session,” said Uliana. “Nobody bothered to get them, get these records until the month of the trial.”
The Supreme Court’s decision could come quickly. The first thing the justices have to decide is whether or not they’ll accept the case.
If the answer is no, then Jeff Pelley is a free man.
If the answer is yes, the time consuming process of writing a decision would begin.