Fisherman Settles Case Over Trials In Slayings -- Man Gets $900, 000; State Admits No Wrongdoing

ANCHORAGE - A commercial fisherman from Washington state has won a $900,000 settlement for wrongful prosecution after being tried twice and eventually acquitted in the homicides of eight people.

John Kenneth Peel's civil lawsuit, filed in 1990 in federal court, accused state prosecutors and several troopers of wrongfully arresting, imprisoning and prosecuting him in connection with the mass killings in 1982. A pregnant woman and her two children were among the dead.

The Bellingham man, who works as a welder, had sought damages of $175 million for himself, his wife and children, his parents, and his sister and brother-in-law.

The negotiated settlement ends more than a decade of court proceedings but sheds no light on what happened aboard the fishing boat Investor as it burned at the dock in the southeast Alaska port of Craig.

Phillip Weidner, who twice represented Peel in the multi-million-dollar prosecution, said Friday the settlement had been approved by U.S. District Judge H. Russel Holland.

Daniel Gerety, an Anchorage lawyer who represented the state, confirmed the case had been settled. Both lawyers declined comment beyond a prepared statement saying the state had agreed to pay damages without acknowledging wrongdoing.

"This was a compromise settlement," the statement said. "John Kenneth Peel and his family have decided to avoid the expense, emotional drain and effort of further civil litigation."

The settlement calls for the state to pay $300,000 toward the settlement and for insurers to pay the rest.

A Ketchikan jury deadlocked in Peel's first trial, and he eventually was acquitted of arson and eight counts of first-degree murder after a retrial in Juneau in 1988.

In court documents, Weidner based his wrongful-prosecution claim in part on an eight-page trooper memo written in 1984, two years after the Labor Day weekend slayings.

The memo, by former Sgt. James Stogsdill, names Peel as the key suspect but says there is "no case" without a confession and supporting evidence.

"There are no other suspects in this case, however remote," wrote Stogsdill, who was among defendants in Peel's lawsuit.

The memo details the relationship between Peel and the victims - who all were from the Bellingham area - and outlines reason to focus on Peel as well as to rule him out.

For instance, the memo lists 12 reasons to retain Peel as a suspect, including that he was in Craig when the killings occurred, that he knew all but one person aboard the Investor and was among the last to see two of the victims alive.

Among the seven reasons to believe Peel was not involved, Stogsdill said, was that he had no obvious motive, was not identified by witnesses and has said he was in bed that night by 8 p.m. because he was "stoned."

"Suffice it to say that a confession with collaborating facts is imperative to conclude this case," the trooper wrote. "Without it, there is no case."