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Following release from 10-year prison stint, Peel again challenges conviction and again loses

By Record News | Nov 18, 2017

BENTON – Former lawyer Gary Peel, who challenged his criminal convictions from prison many times and always lost, challenged them upon his recent release and lost again. 

On Nov. 16, U.S. District Judge Staci Yandle dismissed a habeas corpus petition that would have freed him from three years of court supervision. 

The Bureau of Prisons released him to supervision on Sept. 20, after he served more than 10 years for bankruptcy fraud and possession of child pornography. 

Yandle found his latest petition didn’t assert any claim that he hadn’t asserted or couldn’t have asserted previously. 

She found he didn’t point to any new case that would alter interpretation of statutes in such a way that his conduct could no longer be considered criminal. 

Peel formerly litigated class actions for Tom Lakin’s firm in Wood River.  

In 2003, he and wife Deborah Peel agreed on a divorce settlement. 

He sued to vacate it in 2004, in St. Clair County circuit court, and he lost. 

In 2005, he petitioned in bankruptcy court to discharge his obligations to Deborah. 

In the course of negotiations, Gary told Deborah he possessed nude photographs of her sister at age 16. 

He had carried on an affair with the sister in the eighth year of his marriage. 

In January 2006, he placed copies of the photos in Deborah’s mailbox. 

She complained to federal agents, who recorded telephone calls she made to him. 

He said he’d give her the photos “on the spot,” if she signed a new agreement. 

Grand jurors indicted him on charges of bankruptcy fraud, obstruction of justice, and possession of child pornography. 

A jury found him guilty in 2007, and District Judge William Stiehl imposed 12 years. 

On appeal, in 2010, Seventh Circuit judges dismissed the obstruction conviction. 

They affirmed the child pornography conviction, rejecting Peel’s argument that he didn’t commit a crime because the photos were older than the law against them. 

Appeals judges also affirmed the bankruptcy fraud conviction. 

They sent the case back to Stiehl, who found Peel still deserved 12 years. 

Peel appealed again, and the Seventh Circuit affirmed Stiehl in 2012. 

Peel then asked Stiehl to vacate his sentence, set it aside, or correct it, due to ineffective assistance of counsel. 

Stiehl denied the motion in 2013. 

In 2014, from a penitentiary in Ashland, Ky., Peel alleged constitutional violations in a petition to a nearby district court. 

A judge denied relief, finding he could have brought his claims on appeal. 

In 2015, Peel petitioned the Seventh Circuit to reduce his sentence by recalculating the loss he intended in the bankruptcy fraud. 

Seventh Circuit judges denied the petition, finding they had previously considered and rejected a recalculation. 

Later in 2015, in district court, Peel moved to reform judgment and sentence. 

Last year, Yandle denied the motion as untimely. 

Peel proclaimed innocence before the Seventh Circuit again in April 2016, claiming a decision of the bankruptcy court undermined his conviction. 

Seventh Circuit judges ruled that the decision didn’t implicate his innocence. 

They found his conviction was based on blackmailing his former wife to get her to drop her claim before the bankruptcy court’s ruling. 

In July 2016, in district court, he moved to set aside the fraud judgment. 

Yandle denied the motion, finding no merit in it, and Peel appealed. 

Seventh Circuit judges vacated the denial of the motion last December, and instructed Yandle to dismiss it for lack of jurisdiction. 

Peel petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court for relief from the decision this January, and the Court denied the petition in April. 

On Sept. 28, eight days after the Bureau of Prisons released him, he sued chief district probation officer John Koechner. 

Peel claimed to possess new evidence that his former wife filed a false claim, in the form of minutes from bankruptcy court proceedings. 

He claimed the pornography conviction violated his constitutional rights. 

He sued under Section 2241 of U.S. Code, rather than Section 2255 as before. 

Section 2255 applies to challenges to the validity of convictions and sentences, and Section 2241 applies to factual challenges or duration of confinement. 

Yandle denied service of summons, pending preliminary review. 

Review didn’t take long, and Section 2241 didn’t help at all. 

“Peel is attacking his conviction and sentence, which implicates Section 2255 as the proper avenue for relief,” Yandle wrote. 

Yandle held that Section 2241 contains a savings clause authorizing a petition where the remedy under Section 2255 is inadequate or ineffective. 

She wrote that by Seventh Circuit precedent, inadequate or ineffective means, “A legal theory that could not have been presented under Section 2255 establishes the petitioner’s actual innocence.” 

She wrote that a claim of innocence could be addressed under Section 2241 only if the Supreme Court reinterpreted a statute in a manner establishing that his conduct didn’t violate the statute. 

In the Seventh Circuit, “Actual innocence is established when a petitioner can admit everything charged in the indictment, but the conduct no longer amounts to a crime under the statutes as correctly understood,” she wrote. 

“Peel relies on arguments that he unsuccessfully presented or attempted to bring in one or more of his earlier challenges.” 

She found no basis to construe the minutes of bankruptcy court proceedings as new evidence under Section 2241. 

She wrote that Peel admitted the minutes were available at the time of trial.


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U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Illinois