When the prosecution announced it was resting its case, the spectators let out an audible sigh of relief. That same sigh squeaked out of a few jurors. The move even surprised Judge Thomas Schulz. After all, the State had ended its case with a whimper, not a bang. Schulz suspected they would have preferred to end with Jim Robinson pointing at John Peel, but everyone knew how that turned out.
At least now the end, while not yet in sight, was near. Judge Schulz was even of the opinion that the case might end very soon. “Don’t be surprised,” he told his law clerk, “if the defense rests when they come back in.”
Don’t be surprised if the defense rests.”Judge Thomas Schulz
“But they said they’re going to call witnesses,” Cammy Oeschli insisted.
“I’m just telling you, don’t be surprised,” Schulz told his law clerk. “When you stop and think about it, they can do themselves a lot of harm. But there’s not a helluva lot more good they can do themselves that they haven’t already done.”
Schulz had a point. Phil Weidner had made the prosecution the bad guy in all of this. Anything that diminished that could potentially backfire.
Phillip Weidner instead announced that the defense case might last as long as two months. He predicted it would take more like three or four weeks. That they could call as many as 50 witnesses. That was fewer witnesses than the prosecution had called, though still a bounty.
But right out of the box, it was also clear that the defense strategy was changing. They had harped about drug money and professional killers for months. Now the defense team was offering far less. The first hint of the shift came when Brant McGee announced that they planned to prove Peel had an alibi for the night of the killings and that the prosecution was “in for some surprises.” From that point onward, the defense seemed to steadily pull back.
The next day, for instance, McGee and Weidner announced they would offer an “impossibility” defense, their point being that it was impossible for John Peel to have committed the crimes.
“They have what I call the Star Trek theory,” said defense attorney Brant McGee. “That somehow John Peel was beamed up from the middle of Craig harbor and then beamed down into downtown Craig. John Peel can’t be in two places at the same time.”
They also would prove Peel’s innocence through expert witnesses and the testimony of a “wide spectrum” of character witnesses. Weidner later elaborated on that theme, announcing that he planned to focus less on evidence pointing away from Peel and more on proving the prosecution couldn’t hang the killings on him.
“There’s a number of situations,” Weidner now proclaimed. “We do not know who killed them.”
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.