Weider to Court: Dismiss This Indictment

The motion to dismiss the indictment against John Peel was, in reality, a series of motions and memoranda. Some were as simple as a single page. Others were dense reams of paper. Taken together, the documents brought forward the defense case against the indictment, while opening a window into their possible courtroom strategies.

Investor Skiff (screengrab A Current Affair)

Among the allegations, the defense charged that the State failed to adequately fingerprint the Investor skiff or its contents, and failed to adequately preserve the crime scene. They complained that the indictment failed to “charge an offense with requisite specificity.”

Mark Coulthurst in Skiff (courtesy Alaska State Archives)

They asserted that the prosecution of John Peel had not proceeded in a timely fashion, which caused undue anxiety and prejudice to Peel’s ability to defend himself and, therefore, warranted a dismissal. They added that the passage of time had also eroded witnesses’ memories.

In fact, they were at the two year mark since the murders; part of that was attributable to the perpetrator’s success in eluding police.

In other documents, the defense argued that the indictment against John Peel should be dismissed because material misstatements of fact were made before the grand jury. These misrepresentations included a misquote of John Peel’s statements to Galyan and Flothe: the grand jury transcript had Peel saying, “I can’t believe the things I did in there,” which the defense had now changed to say, “I can’t believe you all think I did this.” [1]


The defense further argued that the prosecution had a duty to present exculpatory evidence to the grand jury, but failed to do so. The prosecution, they charged, had failed to inform the grand jury that “two of the critical eyewitnesses had failed to identify John Peel as the operator of the Investor skiff on the day after the fire.” [2]

“The prosecution’s arson expert concluded that the accelerant used in the fire was white gas. The only type of gas sold at the service station was regular gas.”

Brant McGee, Motion to Dismiss Indictment

Also in the defense’s long litany of sins was the argument that prosecutors had failed to tell the jurors that eyewitnesses had provided what they described as “inconsistent descriptions” of the skiff operator. Also included on the list of prosecution omissions was the failure of the prosecution to identify the accelerant used in the Investor arson.

“According to the prosecution’s theory, the person responsible for the Investor homicides and the subsequent attempt to burn the boat used gasoline as an accelerant… The state introduced testimony to the effect that a witness was present at a gas station in Craig when an individual that allegedly fit the general description of John Peel purchased gasoline… The greatest problem with this singularly misleading tactic by the prosecution is that their own arson expert concluded that the accelerant used in the fire was white gas. The only type of gas sold at the service station was regular gas.”
Brandt McGee Memorandum

[1] In earlier arguments, the defense quoted Peel as saying, “I’m scared. I can’t believe you think I did that.” Peel’s statements to the police were turning out to be fungible, in part because the interrogation recording was less than stellar.

[2] In a U.S. Supreme Court case, Justice Scalia, writing for the majority in United States v. Williams (1992), ruled that “Th[is] ruling protects prosecutors who withhold ‘substantial exculpatory evidence’ in order to obtain an indictment, as the role of the grand jury is not to determine guilt, but rather to decide whether there is enough evidence of a crime; exculpatory evidence can be presented at trial.”

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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