Within moments of the mistrial decision, Mary Anne Henry said John Peel would be retried. She had already contacted State Attorney General Hal Brown to inform him of her decision. “Without hesitation,” she told reporters, “it’s worthwhile to retry the case.”
Some things, it seemed, hadn’t changed. The state believed John Peel was guilty. The defense believed he was innocent. And attorneys for both sides stubbornly clung to their sense of personal animosity. Neither side was pulling any punches. Would he be retried? Or not?
In the days leading up to the hearing on the defense motion to acquit John Peel, Phillip Weidner hinted that he had inside knowledge about jury deliberations. Weidner did not reveal the exact tally. But he hinted that the jury vote was close. Too close for his client to be retried.
“I can only state that there was a range from a majority to a very strong majority on all counts,” he said in a hand-written statement provided to the news media. “Almost all of the counts were a strong majority. The results were all in the same direction and they constitute a compelling reason for the prosecution not to retry the case and waste any more public funds in seeking convictions that were rejected by this jury.”
Asked to respond to Weidner’s claim, Mary Anne Henry refused to address the defense assertions directly. “Unlike my opponents,” she declared, “I honor the court order” that holds attorneys to silence about the jury deliberations. Questioned about a news report that the jury was split 7-5 for acquittal, Henry said, “That doesn’t sound like a ‘very strong majority.'”
But the news media wasn’t going to make the acquittal decision. Judge Schulz would make that decision. And the rules governing his decision were quite clear. To reach his decision, court rules required Schulz to consider the evidence in “the light most favorable to the state.” To acquit John Peel, Schulz would further have to conclude that “reasonable people” would unanimously agree that the state’s evidence failed to prove Peel’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
In the hearing, the defense made much of Dean Moon. They said the state had not proved that he was dead. For that reason, they said, they considered Dean Moon a suspect in the Investor murders. The defense made even more of the jury’s inability to reach a decision. “The state spent millions of dollars and the jury differed” on what to make of the evidence, Weidner asserted. “No matter how many times they try or how many millions of dollars they spend, there would always be at least a hung jury.”
As John Peel and his family listened to the hearing by telephone, assistant district attorney Bob Blasco stepped up to present the prosecution case. He addressed them directly. “I want Mr. Peel and his family to hear this real clear,” he said as he turned toward the speaker phone and confronted Weidner’s claims explicitly. ”The killer is on the phone and he’s listening,” Blasco said indignantly. “If there was a shadow of a doubt, we wouldn’t be standing here today.”
As Judge Schulz announced his ruling, he noted that reasonable people could clearly disagree on the issues raised during the trial of John Kenneth Peel. “I’m satisfied that this case should have gone to a jury,” Schulz said in denying Weidner’s motion for acquittal. “It did and they were unable to reach a decision,” he announced. “It’s still a jury case.”
Peel would be retried.
Excerpts from the unpublished original manuscript, “Sailor Take Warning,” by Leland E. Hale. That manuscript, started in 1992 and based on court records from the Alaska State Archive, served as the basis for “What Happened in Craig.”
Copyright Leland E. Hale (2020). All rights reserved.