Phillip Weidner Interviews Larry Demmert, Jr.

Before the judge made his bail decision, Phillip Weidner paid a visit to Larry Demmert in Bellingham. His official reason for being there was to ask him about mistakes in his grand jury testimony, mistakes he shared with John Peel’s sister, Kelli Perram. Weidner even brought Perram with him to the Demmert interview — along with co-counsel Brant McGee and a defense investigator.

Despite Perram’s presence, it was clear that Demmert was his own man. Before Weidner was able to ask him a single question, Demmert had one of his own. He asked: “Did you or did you not in court up there, in a roundabout way, say that I should be the one investigated for this?”

“Well,” Weidner replied, “basically what I stated was something to the effect that I had been told that you had been a suspect at one time. And I’m still trying to find that out, and that’s one reason I wanted to meet you personally, is to find out what the situation is on that.” [1]

Phillip Weider, Ketchikan (copyright Hall Anderson)

After that misdirection, Weidner moved quickly to his own questions. He wanted to know what mistakes Demmert had made in his grand jury testimony and, of course, the apparent flip-flops of Dawn Holmstrom and Brian Polinkus were fresh in everyone’s mind.

His mistake, Demmert said, was that he was “not a hundred percent sure on the identification of the person on the Investor. John Peel was the first person that come to mind. That’s what I should have said, but…”

“You weren’t positive about it?” Weidner asked.

Demmert explained that he “felt pressured” during his pre-grand jury interview with the authorities. He wasn’t sure whether his treatment at the hands of authorities qualified as intimidation, however, because he had talked to a lawyer, who told him it wasn’t.

Ketchikan Courthouse (courtesy Jimmy Wayne)

“But they came close,” Demmert added. “They yelled and got a little intense there for a while. Very emotional on my part to bring that out and say that. And, well, what confused me was the Assistant D.A. who wanted it ‘to be positive.’ And I told him that morning that I wasn’t positive, but he said, ‘That’s not good enough.’ And they kept on pressuring me until I finally said John Peel.”

As the interview progressed, Demmert repeated his lawyer’s assertion that he hadn’t been intimidated.

“I’m not interested right now in somebody else’s opinion as to whether or not you were intimidated,” Weidner told him. “All I’d like to know from you is if you could just tell me as clearly as possible the things that happened that made you feel intimidated.”

“Well, they said they were going to put me in jail until I remembered,” Demmert told him, conflating the valium incident with his subsequent interview. “Hold me or whatever until I remembered that.”

“Who said that?”

“Bob Blasco. He said he could put me under protection or whatever until I — he said that he felt that I knew something, which I did — and I was holding back. But he said that — I can’t remember the exact words — but something in reference to going to send me to jail until I remembered or told them what I remembered.”

Purse Seiners rafted up in Craig (copyright Leland E. Hale)

Weidner reminded Demmert that his grand jury testimony had addressed “about three different situations” where he had seen John Peel. The attorney wanted to walk him through each one.

The first one, Weidner recalled, was Demmert’s testimony that he had come back to his boat and seen someone going aboard the Investor. The second one, Weidner reminded him, was about waking up in the middle of the night. And then, the attorney said, “You talk about seeing some kind of person coming off the Investor with what…”

“Yeah, well, I saw John Peel coming off,” Demmert interrupted. “But I’m not exact — I didn’t think I said it was a gun. I meant to say it looked like a rifle barrel, but I didn’t see the stock or anything. In the testimony I said I saw what looked to be a rifle barrel, because there was what appeared to be sights on the end of it and it seemed to be the same size as a rifle barrel.”

“During that time now,” Weidner interjected, “was that also kind of a shadowy figure situation when he came off and… “

“Oh, there was lights on the boat,” Demmert replied. “I recognized him there.”

“Is it possible that that was just somebody that kind of looked like Peel, too?”

“No,” Demmert replied. “I mean that’s — he was twenty feet away.”

[1] Among the sources of allegations that Larry Demmert, Jr. was a possible suspect was none other than John Peel who, when shown the composites of the skiffman, said it resembled Demmert, whom he called “pizza face and glasses.”

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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