Peel Defense Presses Its Case

As 1985 began, Judge Schulz conducted an omnibus hearing to lay out a detailed calendar for the year to come. The first “surprise” was his decision to postpone the trial until January 6, 1986 — nearly a year away — largely to allow the defense time to argue a number of complex motions. The judge’s decision tacitly acknowledged the potential for round after round of contentious relations between prosecution and defense.

One of those issues involved John Peel’s bail request. The judge told both sides he expected to make a decision on that matter by early February. Peel’s family and friends had pledged $250,000 and hoped the judge would reduce his bail to that amount. Mary Anne Henry argued that Peel’s bail should remain at $1 million because, “I believe he is a flight risk.”

Mary Anne Henry (AP Photo)

Another issue was the defense attack on the grand jury indictment. The defense made it clear they would ask the judge to overturn it. To their allegations that grand jury witnesses were intimidated were added the contention that eyewitness identifications of Peel were suspect.

The initial battle on that front was expected to involve renewed immunity requests for Brian Polinkus and Dawn Holmstrom. Weidner wanted the judge to order immunity for the pair. Mary Anne Henry countered that the immunity privilege applied to the rights of a defendant against self-incrimination and not to the rights of witnesses in the case.

Weidner also told the court he expected to argue for suppression of witness identifications of his client, though he didn’t specify which identifications he would challenge.

Ms. Henry informed the court she intended to use Peel’s previous statements at trial and added that “it would be arguable” whether they were incriminating. Contending that they weren’t incriminating, Weidner told the court he would try to block use of Peel’s prior statements.

Judge Thomas Schulz, January 10, 1986 (AP Photo)

Judge Schulz, meanwhile, took steps to “put a lid on” the volume of documents being filed with the court. He decided to seal them, thereby keeping them out of reach of reporters. In a reference to past acrimony between the two sides, the judge added, “If I seal all this stuff, you folks can quit calling each other names on the record.”

The attorneys laughed, but made no promises to bury the hatchet.

Excerpts from the unpublished original manuscript, “Sailor Take Warning,” by Leland E. Hale.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 (2019). All rights reserved.


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