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Decision nears in 'Prom Night Murders' as Jeff Pelley seeks new trial

 Jeff Pelley
Photo provided
Jeff Pelley

A St. Joseph County judge is nearing a decision on whether to grant a new trial for a man convicted of killing four family members in Lakeville in 1989.

Jeff Pelley has been in prison for nearly 18 years serving out a 160-year sentence for killing his father, stepmother and two stepsisters.

The four members of the Pelley family were killed at their home in Lakeville with a shotgun and the grisly episode was dubbed the “Prom Night Murders” due to the killings happening the night of Lakeville High School’s prom. Jeff Pelley's father, Bob Pelley, was also the pastor of a local church and the case quickly drew media attention.

Prosecutors have maintained that Jeff Pelley’s father grounding him before the dance was the main motive for the murders. At Pelley’s original trial in 2006, they presented a case where the 17-year-old Jeff Pelley took the family shotgun and shot all four family members then cleaned up the shell casings and took a shower all in the span of less than 25 minutes.

Post-conviction relief

But Pelley, 51, has maintained his innocence and his quest for exoneration is now in the hands of superior court judge Stephanie Steele.

Last year, Pelley and his attorneys presented evidence that they say proves Pelley wasn’t given a fair trial. Namely, Pelley says prosecutors lied when they told jurors that a pair of blue jeans had been washed in the washing machine at the Pelley house. Pelley’s attorney said 34 coins and a legible receipt were found in the jeans, meaning they couldn’t have been washed.

Pelley’s counsel also says prosecutors never turned over a videotaped interview from a woman in 2003 who told police that Jeff Pelley’s father, Bob Pelley, intimated to her that he “had another life” before moving to Lakeville.

The women’s testimony fit into an alternative theory Pelley’s trial lawyers had that his family was killed by a criminal organization in retribution for Bob Pelley’s illicit financial dealings when the family lived in Florida.

The state has maintained prosecutors in 2006 never acted improperly. Prosecutors at trial never presented evidence to claim the jeans had been washed, they say, and add that testimony about Bob Pelley’s past life would not be admissible at a new trial due to it being hearsay.

They also say Pelley’s original legal team investigated leads in Florida, but didn’t find anything they could present at trial.

Pelley has raised other issues about the effectiveness of his trial team, but at a hearing on Wednesday, Steele seemed mostly concerned with questions about the blue jeans.

Steele has asked both sides to submit more legal citations for their arguments by mid-August. At some point after that, she will decide if Pelley deserves a new trial.

Marek Mazurek has been with WVPE since April 2023, though he's been in Michiana for most of his life. He has a particular interest in public safety reporting. When he's not on the radio, Marek enjoys getting way too into Notre Dame football and reading about medieval English history.