Family questions judge’s history with defendant in ‘bully of Galena’ case

GALENA -- One should never underestimate the power of a judge. A whole town knows that he, and he alone, will decide the fate of a man some call Galena’s town bully. Jim Peters is charged with involuntary manslaughter for throwing punches that led to a guy’s death. He admits decking Brian Friede, but only after he says Friede ambushed him at a local gas station.

When asked by WGN Investigates, Peters said, “You don’t even have to talk to me! They can watch the video and the audio. It shows the guy get out of the car, come around, after me. It shows him after my son. It shows me trying to leave, it shows me screaming, to fight, ‘Get him out of here!’”

Peters called Friede the aggressor. Friede’s family is incredulous saying the 57-year-old gentle bear of a man was in no shape to fight. According to Friede’s mom Beverly, “The doctor told me. He said I don’t know if he’s going to make it or not. He’s very critically ill. I stopped and I said you’re kidding me and I said he’s not a fighter. I don’t understand what this is about.” Friede’s younger sister, Lori says, “He had bad hips, he had bad knees, he had a hard time making it to work.”

The family adamantly blames Peters. He has found trouble before. In fact, Peters has remained in regular trouble since he was a kid. Back in the day, it was Judge Kelly as a small town attorney who defended Peters several times.

Kelly reportedly even sat in a meeting where a deal was cut for Peters to help bust a burglary ring. The burglary charges against Peters were dismissed. The others went to jail.

What makes the current case hit so close to home for the Friede family and some in this tourist town, isn’t just the length of Peters’ rap sheet it is the violence littered within. Peters served time for beating his ex-wife, whom the Friede’s knew well. According to Lori, “She had roots hanging out of her skull and I believe they had to wire her mouth. My mother went to the hospital to pick her up. She was beaten so badly.”

Peters’ ex-wife and son resettled in another state. When asked by WGN, Peters said, “Our marriage didn’t end on that good of a note.” When further question if he hurt his ex-wife, Peters became defensive saying, “Well that has nuttin’ to do with, that was back in the 80’s and 90’s. What did that have to do with what happens, what does that have to do with whatever day it happened? This guy comes behind me and attacks me. And he goes after my 16 year old kid. What does that have to do with what I did when I was a piece of garbage?”

The Friedes find comfort in that much of mail street Galena has no use for Peters’ act anymore either. Peters’ violent ways didn’t stay behind closed doors of his house. Peters says, “Hey in my past, if somebody says, hey look, Peters is a piece of garbage, back in the 90’s. Who can argue it? I was. I mean from ’86 to ’97 I was no good. I mean, I mean, I don’t know how to say, I can’t deny it, I was a bad apple. I don’t know how to say that.” Peters adds, “I haven’t been in any trouble since ’97.”

Actually, yes, he has. Even after 1997, the cops responded to many calls but there were very few charges and fewer convictions. In 1999, Peters was guilty in a few traffic cases. In 2000, there was a domestic trouble call that ended with no charge. In 2003, Peters kept law enforcement busy with a harassment complaint, a domestic call, a couple of disorderly stops, and a bar fight. There were no charges.

In 2004, there was another domestic call. Then, a scrape with the man who is now the focus of Peters’ current legal trouble, Brian Friede. In that fight, Peters split the scene before police arrived. No charges.

On and on it goes. In 2005, a battery complaint is dismissed. In 2006, another domestic call. There were more complaints in 2007, 2008, and 2009, but every time there were no charges filed. It was the same in 2011 with a few more domestic calls, but no charges filed. Later that year, Peters and a friend, Chris Fiffe are charged with possession of a controlled substance. Fiffe is found guilty, but charges against Peters are dismissed.

In 2012, 2013, 2014 more complaints of domestic issues, harassment, and a fight. No charges.

Then in 2015, see if this sounds familiar. It’s a battery charge. The same team is in the courtroom then as now. The same prosecutor, defense attorney and judge. The case is dropped by the State. Peters’ claimed the guy swung first, so he beat him up.

It is the same line used by Peters in the death of Brian Friede. Peters said the Friede attacked him. There was a second scrum. Peters’ son was at the gas station at the very same time as his dad. Peters told WGN, “I said, my son is 16 years old, leave him alone or we can go again. Now in my mind, he didn’t go so good the first time he attacked me. So I’m figuring he would just pack up and go. He didn’t pack up and go. He said, ‘let’s go big boy.’”

With all of that in Peters’ past, the same judge who’s known him since he represented Peters as a juvenile, let him get bailed out for a thousand dollars on the charge of involuntary manslaughter. That low bond, upset the Friede family, “We were shocked. I mean I actually got sick. I mean how could he do that. I mean you can’t beat a man to death and run the streets.”

You can. Bonds are to ensure a person shows up to court, not to punish. A judge is free to set whatever amount. Back in the day, a different judge gave Peters a higher bond of $30,000 for reportedly punching his mother. Still another judge gave Peters $100,000 bond on a theft charge.

When asked, about needing only a $1,000 to bond out, Peters said, “Most people wouldn’t have gotten charged. Most people wouldn’t have gotten charged.”

In small towns, everyone seems to know everyone. The neighborly ties that make it special could also lead to conflict. Judge Kelly was once a partner in the same law firm that is defending Peters.

There judge knows the Friede family too. According to Beverly, “Well I’ve known him maybe 35 years. We were actually friends at one time.” Which makes it uncomfortable for her in the courtroom saying, “When my husband died, he saw me one night and he said Bev if you ever need a favor just call me if you get in trouble or anything. Well needless to say we’re not friends now. He won’t even look at me hardly.”

Then, there is this letter written in 1991 from Peters to Judge Kelly asking for legal help on yet another case. Peters wrote, “I only trust you to be fair.” Even though Judge Kelly use to defend Peters, enough time has passed so it’s okay for him to sit on the bench now. However, the Judge could step aside on his own if he felt there is a conflict.

The Friedes say it doesn’t sit well with them. Lori adds, “We’ve asked the State’s Attorney if the judge could step down.” She says she heard nothing back.

The trial is set for the end of November. Then one man, Judge Kelly, will make the call. The Friede family worries that they will not get justice. A grieving, mom says from time to time she still waits for her son to call.