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Friday, February 20, 2009

Ind. Decisions - Pelley convictions upheld: Murder trial delay did not violate rule.

The Supreme Court decision yesterday in the case of Robert Jeffrey Pelley v. State (ILB summary here) is the subject of a story by Pablo Ros in today's South Bend Tribune. Some quotes:

The Indiana Supreme Court has upheld the murder convictions of a man for the 1989 Lakeville killings of four of his family members so he could attend high school prom night.

In a decision published Thursday, the court affirmed the four murder convictions of Robert Jeffrey Pelley, 37, who is serving a 160-year prison sentence for the gunshot deaths of his father, stepmother and two stepsisters.

The decision came nearly a year after the Indiana Court of Appeals in April overturned Pelley's convictions on the grounds that prosecutors had taken too long to bring Pelley to trial, violating his right to a speedy trial.

The right to a speedy trial means a defendant must be brought to trial within one year of his arrest unless the delay can be attributed to the defendant himself, to court congestion or to an event that the court considers an emergency.

Pelley was charged with the murders in 2002 after an investigation was reopened, but his trial did not take place until 2006. The delay was partly caused by an appeal of a judge's decision not to allow counseling records of the Pelley family to be presented as evidence at trial.

That delay was not a violation of the speedy trial rule and so did not justify throwing out Pelley's convictions, the Supreme Court has determined.

"The importance of the decision going forward for prosecutors is that we still have the ability to challenge a trial court ruling before the case is concluded," St. Joseph County Prosecutor Michael Dvorak said. "That was not taken away from the arsenal of tools that prosecutors have available to them." * * *

[Stacy R. Uliana, Pelley's attorney in the appeal] said Pelley now has three options: to ask the Indiana Supreme Court to rehear the case; to ask the United States Supreme Court to hear a couple of the issues raised on appeal; and to file a post-conviction relief petition bringing forth evidence that was not allowed at trial.

A jury found that Pelley's motives for the killings involved issues with his blended family as well as prom night restrictions his father, the Rev. Robert Pelley of the Olive Branch Church, had placed on him April 29, 1989.

In addition to upholding Pelley's convictions on the basis of the speedy trial issue, the Supreme Court also considered other issues brought on appeal: lack of evidence to support the convictions; admission of certain hearsay statements as well as evidence of third-party motives; and a judge's denial to appoint a special prosecutor in the case.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on February 20, 2009 09:43 AM
Posted to Ind. Sup.Ct. Decisions