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Sentence of lawyer in porn case probably will be reduced; Nudie Pix of Sister-in-Law Used as Blackmail

EAST ST. LOUIS — from www.stltoday.com – A federal appeals court has reversed part of a former Madison County lawyer’s prison sentence for blackmailing his ex-wife with nude photos of her underage sister.

Gary Peel [pictured left], 65, once a lawyer at the powerful Lakin law firm in Wood River, is serving a 12-year sentence on charges of bankruptcy fraud, obstruction of justice and possession of child pornography.

But in a ruling released Friday, the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago says it was double jeopardy to charge Peel with both bankruptcy fraud and obstruction of justice.

“This is like a case in which a person is tried for both murder and attempted murder,” wrote Judge Richard Posner. “The elements are different, but since conviction for murder automatically convicts the defendant of attempted murder (for there can be no murder without attempting the deed), the defendant cannot be convicted of both crimes.”

Furthermore, the ruling says the U.S. District Court in East St. Louis wrongly calculated that Peel intended a loss of more than $1 million, which added prison time under federal sentencing guidelines.

The appellate court remanded the case to U.S. District Judge William Stiehl, directing him to vacate one of the convictions, recalculate Peel’s sentencing range and resentence him.

The move will likely reduce Peel’s total sentence, but under complicated sentencing guidelines, it’s unclear by how much. He was sentenced concurrently on all four counts, with the obstruction of justice charge netting him the most prison time.

Prosecutors said that Peel had an affair with his wife’s teenage sister and photographed her in the 1970s. They said that in 2006, he sent photos to his then ex-wife with a threat to give copies to her elderly parents unless she cooperated with him in a bankruptcy-related dispute.

Peel argued that he didn’t know the girl was under 18 when he took the pictures. He also claimed an “affirmative defense” — meaning the facts don’t constitute a crime — in that the age of consent wasn’t raised to 18 until 1984.

The court found that Peel had “extensive” knowledge of her age. “He had known her since she was in fourth grade, had spent a great deal of time with her at the time of his marriage to her sister, when she was in high school, and years later had represented her (the defendant is a lawyer) in her divorce proceeding,” Posner wrote.

The appellate court also said the affirmative defense claim did not apply to these circumstances, and it sustained Peel’s conviction on two charges of possession of child pornography.

Peel remains jailed at a federal prison in Ashland, Ky.

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