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Hearings begin for man convicted of ‘prom night murders’

Joe Gratz
Flickr (http://J.MP/1SPGCL0)

Hearings began Monday to determine whether Jeff Pelley — the man convicted of the 1989 “prom night murders” — should receive a new trial.

In 2006, Pelley was convicted of killing his father, stepmother and two stepsisters on the night of his prom in 1989. The presumed motive was a disagreement between Pelley and his father about whether Pelley could drive himself to the prom and attend related activities.

Though he won an appeal in 2008, the Indiana Supreme Court upheld Pelley’s conviction in 2009.

But now, lawyers at the IU School of Law’s Wrongful Exoneration Clinic are arguing that Pelley’s constitutional rights to due process and a speedy trial were violated, and he deserves a new trial.

Pelley’s team is arguing that two pieces of evidence were mishandled in the original investigation: first, a pair of blue jeans that prosecutors said Pelley had taken off and washed after shooting his family.

Pelley’s lawyers say there’s no documentation of the jeans ever being in the washer, and that some reports indicate the pants were actually dirty when they were entered into evidence. A number of coins and a readable receipt were entered with the jeans — items they say would not have survived the washer.

Second, the testimony of a woman named Toni Beehler, who came forward after hearing that Pelley had been charged with the murders.

Pelley’s lawyers say the original defense team never received her testimony, and that it presents an alternative motive for the murders — that Pelley’s father had a criminal history in Florida that followed him to Indiana.

Attorneys questioned two witnesses to those ends on Monday — Patrick Zirpoli, a cold case expert from Pennsylvania, and Craig Whitfield, a former cold case investigator with the St. Joseph County Prosecutor’s Office who reopened the case in 2002.

Hearings to determine whether Pelley should be retried are scheduled to conclude Thursday. St. Joseph County Superior Court Judge Stephanie Steele is presiding in the hearings.

Contact Gemma at or follow her on Twitter at @gemma_dicarlo.

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Gemma DiCarlo came to Indiana by way of Athens, Georgia. She graduated from the University of Georgia in 2020 with a degree in Journalism and certificates in New Media and Sustainability. She has radio experience from her time as associate producer of Athens News Matters, the flagship public affairs program at WUGA-FM.