Peel claims he was seduced by sister-in-law, defense rests
It took Gary Peel's legal team only one day to present evidence before resting in the embattled lawyer's criminal case.
On the witness stand, Peel admitted he took nude photographs of his former sister-in-law and that he had a sexual relationship with her but testified that he thought she was over 18.
Peel said the relationship began in 1974 and that his sister-in-law initiated the relationship.
Jurors will hear closing arguments and then begin deliberations at noon on Thursday.
He said that at some point during either late 1973 or early 1974, he and his sister-in-law were walking in the same hallway in his Edwardsville house when she stopped suddenly in a hallway causing him to extend his hands out so that he did not run into her.
Peel testified that his sister-in-law grabbed his hands and pulled them underneath her shirt so that he could feel her breasts.
He said that they had sex less than six times at the Reed Armstrong law office in Edwardsville during their relationship and that his sister-in-law willingly participated in the sex.
Peel testified that he did not know why the relationship ended, but after it ended the two would still talk at family functions, just never about the affair they had. He also said that he handled her divorce for free at some time during the 1980s.
On Wednesday, Peel's former sister-in-law testified that their first date was at a St. Louis movie theatre to see the movie "The Exorcist."
She also testified that several years after the relationship ended, she meet Peel on the St. Louis riverfront to get the nude photos back and further testified that Peel told her how to pose in the photos.
But Peel testified that he remembered the movie, but not who he saw it with. He also testified that he did not remember meeting his sister-in-law in St. Louis to give the photos back.
Peel also said that he did not remember telling her how to pose for the photos but did remember that she picked the pose in one of the photographs.
He testified that after the relationship ended in August 1974, he placed the photos into an expandable file folder at his office and forgot about them until January 2006, a few days before he placed photocopies in his ex-wife's mailbox.
He said he placed the photos in the mailbox because his family was leaking private information about his bankruptcy to The Record newspaper.
Peel testified that he wanted to convey the message that the entire family had skeletons and that the situation was going to get out of control if they did not agree to keep things confidential.
He also took a shot at his three estranged children.
"David had a drinking problem, Jenny beat me up and Jeff had problems following the rules at work," Peel said.
He also testified that he did not know his wife was working with the FBI and did not know the calls were being recorded.
Peel then testified that it was his ex-wife who asked how they could keep the photographs private and that he just gave her some options on how to do that.
He said that he was not trying to deceive anybody and that he was only doing what his ex-wife asked him to do.
On cross examination, Assistant U.S. Attorney Kevin Burke showed Peel a picture from his wedding day. The photograph was of Gary and Deborah Peel, her two sisters and her parents.
According to Donna Rodgers' testimony on Tuesday, she was in the fourth grade when her sister married Gary Peel on June 2, 1967.
Peel told Burke that he did not know her age at the time of the photograph.
Burke also asked Peel how his former mother and father-in-law would act if they were shown the nude photographs of Rodgers.
"I would expect they would be mortified," Peel said.
Burke then asked Peel if the reason for him taking the pictures was for a sexual reason.
"No, I do not agree with that," Peel responded.
Burke asked Peel under what circumstances Deborah Peel would receive the photos.
"When and only when your wife signed the new settlement would she receive the pictures, correct?" Burke asked.
"That was a possibility, but not the only possibility," Peel said.
Burke then showed Peel transcripts from one of the recorded phone calls in which Peel said that as soon as she signed the new agreement he would turn over the photos 'on the spot'."
He also asked Peel if he informed his current wife, Deborah Pontious Peel, that he was making copies of the nude photographs.
"No, it was not any of her business," Peel said.
Burke also asked Peel about one photo in which Rodgers was on a bed. Peel said that it was not taken at the law office because there was not a bed there. Earlier in his testimony Peel said he did not remember going to a motel.
On re-direct, Peel responded to a question posed by his attorney Phillip Kavanaugh saying that placing photos in the mailbox was a defensive move rather than an offensive move.
"When you kick a kid on the playground they kick back," Peel said.
Earlier in the day, Peel's bankruptcy lawyer Steve Stanton took the stand to field questions and many of his answers aggravated U.S. District Judge William Stiehl.
Kavanaugh was asking Stanton many questions that only needed a yes or no answer but Stanton responded with more.
"I am about to give up here," Stiehl said after asking Stanton for the third time only to answer "yes" or "no."
Kavanaugh asked Stanton if Peel's deposition testimony ever appeared in the public domain.
Stanton answered "yes," but added, "I am not sure how that information ended up there."
"Is there a reason you cannot follow my instructions?" Stiehl asked Stanton.
Stanton also testified that in his 20 years of bankruptcy law he has never been asked to enter a settlement under seal as Peel requested.
He also testified that Peel was under a lot of pressure due to the articles in the newspaper.
Stanton also testified that he did not believe that Deborah Peel's attorney needed to be fully informed on every aspect of the case before he could give sound advice.
Burke also asked him if he helped either side with any legal strategy pertaining to Gary Peel. He answered "no."
Burke showed him a letter that Stanton wrote to bankruptcy trustee Laura Grandy in which Stanton states that he met with Gary Peel's criminal lawyers to discuss legal strategy.
When the day started Peel's co-counsel Stephen Williams asked Stiehl to sever the case's child pornography charges from the bankruptcy fraud and obstruction of justice charges. Peel had already filed an identical motion in June 2006 and it was denied by Stiehl.
Court papers filed last June indicated Peel would assert his right to remain silent on allegations he possessed nude photos of his ex-wife's younger, underage sister.
Williams said Peel would be prejudiced if he testified about the obstruction and fraud charges but not the child porn.
Burke countered that just because Peel wants to talk about the obstruction and fraud charges and take the Fifth on child porn charges is not sufficient reason to sever the four-count indictment.
He also pointed out that the fraud and obstruction charges relate to the child porn charges so even if severed, child pornography would come up and be admissible at trial.
Burke also said that if severed, jurors would only hear Peel placed the photos in the mailbox, not the reason why they were placed.
He said jurors would have to speculate if his ex-wife wanted the pictures, expected the pictures, or why she was not charged with child porn herself.
"To warrant severance, the defendant must show that the joinder created actual prejudice that would deprive him of a fair trial," Stiehl wrote in his July 2006 order.
"Put simply, the bankruptcy fraud and obstruction charges are so inextricably intertwined with the defendant's alleged use of, and possession of, child pornography that without this evidence being admitted, the allegations of fraud and obstruction would have neither context nor foundation," Stiehl also wrote.
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Reed, Armstrong, Mudge & Morrissey
115 N Buchanan St
Edwardsville, IL 62025-1771