A federal prosecutor said he will prove that at least one of the nude photos Gary Peel took of his ex-wife's 16-year-old sister at an Edwardsville law office in 1974 depict child pornography.
During opening arguments at Peel's trial on bankruptcy fraud, obstruction of justice and possession of child pornography, Assistant U.S. Attorney Kevin Burke told jurors that Peel attempted to blackmail his ex-wife Deborah J. Peel with the pictures.
Last year Peel told his ex-wife that he would bankrupt her in legal fees if she did not stop trying to get a deposition of his current wife, Deborah A. Pontious-Peel, end her challenge in bankruptcy court and agree to a new divorce agreement, Burke argued. Peel also threatened to send the nude photos to Deborah Peel's elderly parents, Burke said.
Gary Peel and Deborah Peel divorced in 2003. During contentious settlement proceedings Gary Peel filed for bankruptcy in 2004.
Burke told jurors that while all five of the pictures federal authorities seized last year are important, a picture of Donna Rogers lying on her back and in which her genital region is prominent will prove that the photos depict child pornography.
"You will get to look at this picture through the perspective of the person who took the picture," Burke said.
Burke told jurors that Rogers will testify that Peel told her how to pose.
Peel's public defender Phillip Kavanaugh told the jury a very different story.
"Gary Peel's ex-wife had an axe to grind and it was sharpened by the FBI," Kavanaugh said.
He also said that Rogers was likely 17 in those photos and that she looked like she was having a good time in the photos.
Kavanaugh also said that Peel and Rogers remained friends and that Peel even handled her divorce case in the 1980s.
According to Burke, Peel had worked at Reed Armstrong where the pictures were taken until the summer of 1974, after which time he left to work for Chapman & Chapman in Granite City sometime during the fall of that year.
Burke said it was important to establish what law office the photos were taken at because proving where the pictures were taken would establish Rogers' age in the photos.
He also said the photos prove Rogers was under age in the photos because she was wearing braces. Burke said he will show a senior yearbook picture of Rogers without braces and a junior year picture with braces. Rogers was 17 when she graduated high school, he said.
Burke said the government's case is an unusual array of charges.
"This is an unusual case, but a straight forward case," Burke said.
In order to give the jury what Burke called a "detailed road map" he said that Gary Peel and Deborah J. Peel married in 1967.
He said that during the 1970s, Gary took an interest in Donna Rogers when he was 30. Burke said that on their first "outing" in 1973, Peel took Rogers to see the movie The Exorcist.
Burke said that Rogers will testify that Peel took the photos at a law office in Edwardsville, that was across the street from the courthouse and that the law office had an elevator. She will also testify that Peel had sex with her.
Burke also said he will call witnesses to establish Peel's employment timeline.
He also said that Rogers will testify that shortly before she started college, she called Peel to ask for the photos so she could destroy them. Burke said she met Peel in St. Louis on the riverfront and that he gave her the photos.
Burke said she will testify that before leaving St. Louis, she ripped the photos and threw them into the Mississippi River during the summer of 1977. He said she never heard or mentioned the photos again until the winter of 2006.
Burke said that on Jan. 20, 2006, Deborah Peel received a telephone call from Gary Peel. He said that at that point in time Peel was unhappy about articles that appeared in the Record.
During that conversation on Jan. 20, Burke said Peel informed Deborah Peel that he had placed nude photos of her sister in her mailbox, along with a lawsuit against her, her oldest son David and the Madison County Record. Peel also told her that he sued their daughter, had an affair with Deborah's sister and wrote a letter to the Fairview Heights Police Department concerning their son Jeffrey, a police officer there.
Burke said Deborah called the Maryville Police and an officer retrieved the photos out of her mailbox. He said the police told her she should contact the federal authorities and she did.
Burke said the next week Deborah contacted the U.S. Attorney's office and the FBI began an investigation. During that investigation the FBI recorded three phone calls and also recorded a meeting between Deborah and Gary Peel at the Hardee's in Glen Carbon.
Kavanaugh told jurors that a 2004 deposition involving Peel's bankruptcy case was of a "private and personal nature," but that his son David and Deborah Peel leaked the information to the Madison County Record.
Kavanaugh said the Record newspaper printed articles that were "designed to humiliate and embarrass Gary Peel."
He said that on Jan. 8, 2006, the Record published more private information that was not accurate or complete.
Peel was losing money, was being embarrassed in the media and became estranged from his children and grandchildren, Kavanaugh said.
"He was at the end of his rope," Kavanaugh said.
Kavanaugh also said that Peel cooperated to the best of his ability with the FBI when approached after his meeting with Deborah Peel at Hardee's.
Peel took agents to his home and turned over his printer and took them to his office at the Lakin Law Firm so they could search his office, Kavanaugh said.
"The government cannot sustain their burden of proof," he said. "Gary Peel is not guilty based on the law and the evidence in the case."
Deborah Peel testified that she was afraid that her parents would see the photos. She and her sister agreed not to tell their parents about the photos at that time.
Deborah Peel also testified that she felt like she was "being attacked at all angles" when she learned of the photos and the lawsuits against her and her two children.
Burke played a taped conversation of Jan. 25, 2006, Deborah made with the FBI.
In that taped call, Gary Peel asked her why everything they said ended up in the Record and also said that he thought Donna Rogers was at least 18 when the pictures were taken.
He also told her that he would drop the lawsuits with prejudice if she would agree to the new marital settlement and that he would also return the original photos of Rogers.
He asked Deborah Peel not to call him after normal business hours because it would not be fair for him to discuss the matter in front of his new family.
Burke played a Jan. 26, 2006, taped phone call, in which the two discussed how they would handle the photos. Peel said he thought it would be best to "disguise" the content of the photos to their lawyers.
Burke also played the last phone recording from Jan. 30, 2006. In that conversation Peel tells Deborah that he will meet her to show her the original photos and that they can place them in a sealed envelope and both can sign the seal to ensure that it has not been opened.
Peel told her not to mention the context of the photos to her lawyer and agreed to meet her the next day at Hardee's.
Burke played the recording from that conversation. The FBI had placed a recording device in Deborah's purse and instructed her to put her purse on the table.
"What were you thinking Gary?" Deborah Peel asked.