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One of Michiana’s most notorious murder cases back in court

Published: Sep. 8, 2021 at 6:57 PM EDT
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. (WNDU) - It’s what Jeff Pelley and his supporters have been waiting for.

A hearing date of March 14, 2022 was set today to consider new evidence that there are constitutional problems with his murder convictions.

In April of 1989, the Olive Branch Church parsonage in Lakeville became a bloody crime scene.

The prevailing legal opinion is that a 17-year-old Jeff Pelley shot and killed his father, his stepmother and two young stepsisters under the age of 10 so he would no longer be grounded and would be free to attend a high school prom.

“This one is complex and interesting, and we believe that the man is actually innocent,” said Pelley’s attorney Fran Watson. Watson runs a wrongful conviction clinic at the I.U. law school and is a founding member of the “Innocence Network.”

She will call witnesses at the March hearing. “Prior to the trial, the defense attorney did not know about a witness who will be testifying at these evidentiary hearings, and her testimony would have been consistent with the defense theory that the killers were tied to the fraudulent bank activity and the mob influence,” Watson explained, referring to the minister Robert Pelly’s former occupation as a bank manager in Florida.

While the murders took place in 1989, Jeff Pelley wasn’t charged until 2002, and wasn’t convicted until 2006.

Those convictions were reversed by the Indiana Court of Appeals in 2008, and then reinstated by the Indiana Supreme Court in 2009.

“The best outcome in a proceeding like this is just a new trial,” explained Watson. “You’re not exonerated, you’re not released from custody, you’re simply granted a new trial, then it’s up to the state to decide whether to move forward and try the case again.”

Prison records show Jeff Pelley is now 49 years old and is being held at the Indiana State Prison in Michigan City where his earliest release date is listed as 2082.

Court records show Pelley’s latest post-conviction relief petition was filed in December of 2019.

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