Supreme Court overturns ruling in Peele case
By Kathy Helms-Hughes


   A Carter County man sentenced to life in prison for the 1982 murder of a Hampton church deacon will have his case remanded to the Court of Criminal Appeals following a ruling Tuesday by the Tennessee Supreme Court.
   The high court overruled an Appeals Court decision dismissing Clifford Peele's motion to withdraw the guilty plea he entered Dec. 6, 1982.
   Peele pleaded guilty to first-degree murder in the hanging death of Ben Tester, burglary, grand larceny and larceny. About seven years later, on Feb. 22, 1990, Peele filed a motion to withdraw his guilty plea to the first-degree murder charge because he had not been sentenced for the crime.
   Upon entering the guilty plea, Peele was sentenced for the burglary, grand larceny and larceny. Sentencing for the first-degree murder conviction was postponed until Peele testified against his co-defendants. The extensive time period between Peele's guilty plea and sentencing was attributable to the time necessary to conclude trials for the co-defendants and to conduct mental evaluations requested by Peele.
   On April 30, 1990, Peele's motion to set aside the guilty plea was denied by Carter County Criminal Court Judge Arden Hill and Peele was sentenced to life in prison. The judgment was filed May 22, 1990.
   On June 21, 1990, Peele filed a second motion to withdraw his guilty plea based on alleged ineffective assistance of counsel. The trial court concluded Peel had timely filed his motion. An order entered by the trial court on May 19, 1999, denied Peele's second motion to withdraw his guilty plea.
   Approximately nine years had elapsed from the filing of the second motion to withdraw the plea to the time the order denying the motion was entered. The court's delay in ruling on the motion apparently was caused by several motions filed by Peele for substitution of counsel and continuances.
   The Supreme Court concluded that Peele was entitled to appellate review of the decision and that the trial court exercised its jurisdiction under the Tennessee Rules of Criminal Procedure to rule on the motion to set aside the guilty plea.
   Although a judgment generally becomes final 30 days after its entry, the motion filed June 21, 1990, stayed the judgment of the trial court, which otherwise would have been final on that day. The high court overruled the Appeals' decision that the trial court lacked jurisdiction to rule on the motion and sent the case back to the Appeals Court.