Tonight on CBS’s 48 Hours, the story of the murder of Jessica Pelley’s family will be retold. Over a decade after the murder of her family, Pelley’s stepbrother, Robert Jeff Pelley, was arrested and charged with four counts of murder.
On Sunday April 30, 1989, detectives walked into the Pelley family home and found the bodies of Reverend Robert Pelley, his wife Dawn and two of their daughters, Jolene, 6 and Janel, 8. Jessica Pelley was at a friend’s home the night of the murder, and her eldest sister, Jacque Pelley, was out of town.
Seventeen years after the murder, Jeff Pelley, who was 17 in 1989, was arrested and convicted for the crime.
Jeff Pelley Is Currently Serving Time at Indiana State Prison With a Release Date of 2082
TONIGHT AT 10 P.M. ET/PT: 9-year-old Jessi came home from a sleepover and learned her family was dead.
— 48 Hours (@48hours) August 15, 2020
According to the Indiana Department of Correction, Robert Jeff Pelley is currently serving his sentence at the Indiana State Prison. His earliest possible release date is January 3, 2082. He was sentenced to 160 years in prison.
The prosecution argued that Bob Pelley had grounded his son on the night of the prom, telling him that he could still go, but only if his dad drove him.
“He could not go to the prom without his dad taking him,” former Indiana State Police Detective Mark Senter told 48 Hours. “He couldn’t go to dinner before the prom. He couldn’t go to the after-prom… I believe he killed his family and then was able to go to prom.”
Prosecutors did not press charges on Pelley right away. However, in 2002, a new prosecutor examined the case and chose to charge Pelley with four counts of homicide without any new evidence. Pelley was arrested at the Los Angeles International Airport on his way home from a business trip.
The defense argued that Jeff did not kill his family.
“From all indications, the people that were with Jeff that night described him as just one of the group, they were having a good time,” Pelley’s defense attorney Alan Baum told 48 Hours. “To think he could spend that whole evening doing all of those things they did and just having fun like a kid after murdering his family is preposterous.”
The day after the murder, Jeff Pelley visited an amusement park with his friends. The murder weapon was never found.
Pelley Appealed His Conviction in 2006
This woman spent years cleaning the grave sites of a family murdered in her hometown.
— 48 Hours (@48hours) August 15, 2020
According to the appeal filed, his attorneys argued that the convictions were based on “circumstantial evidence supporting the State’s theory that Pelley, who had been grounded from events connected to his high school senior prom, killed his father in order to attend those activities with his girlfriend, and killed his stepbother and stepsisters because they were present when he killed his father.”
The Indiana University McKinney Wrongful Conviction Clinic is representing Jeff Pelley and has filed a motion for post-conviction relief, according to CBS.
The website Justice For Jeff argues that the charges filed against Jeff were doneso in a political maneuver and Jeff did not commit the crimes he was convicted of.
The most recent update on the website was posted on August 8, 2020 and says that the COVID-19 pandemic has slowed the court system.
“We are currently still trying to get a court date,” the update reads. “In the meantime, the prosecutor’s office has yet to even acknowledge the receipt of our Post-Conviction Relief petition.”
The website is run by Jeff and Jessi’s sister Jacque, according to the page, which claims “I am one of two daughters who both testified in court that Jeff was in fact allowed to go to prom and after prom activities that weekend.”
According to a statement from Pelley’s defense attorney, “It was proven through ballistic evidence that there were two shotguns used in these brutal murders… This conviction was and remains a gross miscarriage of justice.”
Tune into 48 Hours “Live to Tell: Murder on Prom Night” on Saturday, August 15 at 10 p.m. to learn more about Pelley’s Case.