So-called ‘town bully’ of Galena found not guilty in man’s death

GALENA --  Chaos erupted in the courtroom Tuesday after the man many call the "town bully" of Galena, Jim Peters, was found not guilty of involuntary manslaughter in the death of a man following a fight at a gas station in the quiet resort town.

The victim’s sister cried out against the judge: “I hope you rot in hell.”

Last week, WGN Investigates showed you the case of Jim Peters. He’s well-known in that quaint resort town as a man often in trouble.

It was this past summer when we found Peters on Main Street Galena. He hesitated to talk to WGN about the fight that led to the death of Brian Friede at first, but eventually Peters talked, and talked, and talked, giving his own version of events. He talked about how he was sucker-punched first.

“I’m leaning inside the car and all of a sudden I hear, ‘remember me, motherf… 'I turn around, boom, he hits me,' said Peters about Brian Friede.

Peters went on to say, “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!'"

WGN Investigates did look at the tape in court. It was the prosecution that showed it in Peters’ involuntary manslaughter case. It doesn’t clear him or help him. In fact, the only thing you hear is Peters telling Brian Friede that he’s going to kill him. As for the two-day trial before Judge William Kelly, many of the prosecution witnesses seemed more like defense witnesses. Friends and family of Jim Peters dominated the list. All said it was the dead man, Brian Friede who threw the first punch. The defense later argued Peters had to fight back to defend himself.

Peters’ son was the only one who testified to seeing any more than the first punch thrown by Friede. He said he saw the punch that led to Friede’s death, saying his dad hit Friede twice and that was it. Court testimony showed that Friede fell face forward to the gas station pavement and was lying in a pool of blood. In court, it was revealed that no one called 911 until a passerby went to the gas station and told the clerk to call the police immediately. Brian Friede died six days later.

The Friede family told us they thought the entire episode was a set-up because of bad blood between Friede, Peters and two people who were driving Friede home from work that night.

The family made it very public that they were worried about not receiving justice for their son and brother’s death, saying the ties between Peters and the judge would prohibit that. Judge Kelly once represented Jim Peters years ago in one of his many brushes with the law. On Peters’ last brush with the law, the fight that led to Brian Friede’s death, it was Judge Kelly who declared Peters not guilty.