With Sue Domenowske-Page’s testimony at an end, the sole remaining witness who claimed to have seen John Peel at an incriminating place in an incriminating time was Alice Irons. Irons was a waitress at Ruth Ann’s restaurant on Sunday, September 5, 1982. This was the night Mark Coulthurst and his family celebrated Mark’s birthday. Alice Irons served their table. Saw an interloper. Felt the vibes. Was convinced the interloper was John Peel.
She was one of the last people to see the Coulthurst’s alive.
Irons could hardly take the stand without a conflict between the opposing sides. Nobody could, really. This time the initial volley was fired by the state. The prosecution sought a protective order prohibiting Weidner from confronting Irons on allegations that she had “misidentified” Brant McGee. Had, in fact, confused McGee with Peel. The defense charged this was an indication she had also misidentified John Peel.
In opposing the protective order, Weidner hit Irons for her “eagerness to jump to conclusions about Defendant.” He said her misidentification of McGee revealed her “bias toward Mr. Peel” and his defense team. Judge Carpeneti found the defense argument of bias against John Peel “entirely unpersuasive.”
“There is no logical connection to the defendant’s theory that a misidentification of Mr. McGee shows a bias on her part against the defendant,” Carpeneti wrote.
The balance hung on how comparable the two incidents were. In Carpeneti’s mind, they weren’t. Irons observed an interloper at the Coulthurst table for ten or fifteen minutes. The McGee incident arose from a few seconds of contact. An eye-blink, really. She had little reason to observe or recall that Brant McGee was simply someone accompanying Trooper Anderson in Klawock.
She had abundant reasons to notice the interloper at Ruth Ann’s — she was waitressing, the person was in her way. When she learned of the murders, moreover, she had a strong incentive to remember that person.
And then there was her level of certainty about the two incidents. Irons felt certain she had spotted John Peel in Ruth Ann’s (although it was an assisted memory, supported by a happenstance encounter with Peel during the first trial). She was much less certain about the McGee incident.
Ultimately, Alice Irons’ testimony was crisp, to the point and less than dispositive. Yes, she told the jury, she had seen John Peel with the Coulthurst family at Ruth Ann’s restaurant on Sunday, September 5, 1982. No, she told jury, she didn’t remember who she had seen in Klawock with Trooper Anderson. It was more heat than light.
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 (2021). All rights reserved.