HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Prosecutors believed justice was served nearly two decades ago when Adrian Peeler was sentenced to a combined 60 years in state and federal prisons for his roles in Bridgeport’s cocaine trade and the 1999 killings of an 8-year-old murder trial witness and the boy’s mother.
Peeler, however, could be a free man next year, if his pending request for a sentence reduction under a national criminal justice reform law is approved by a federal judge.
State and federal authorities and the victims’ relatives are stridently opposed. In a recent letter to Connecticut U.S. Attorney John Durham, Bridgeport State’s Attorney Joseph Corradino and prosecutor Susan Campbell cited Peeler’s violent criminal history and said he should not qualify for a sentence reduction under the First Step Act signed into law by President Donald Trump in 2018.
Thousands of federal prisoners across the country have been granted sentence reductions under the First Step Act, which aimed to address concerns that too many Americans were imprisoned for nonviolent crimes as a result of the drug war.
“Simply put: the defendant is not a nonviolent drug offender for whom this legislation was intended,” they wrote in the Dec. 31 letter. “He and his brother terrorized the streets of Bridgeport, destroying the very community that raised him, disgracing the memory of their mother who was a Bridgeport police officer, and leaving drugs and bodies in their wake.”
Peeler’s 25-year state prison sentence in the killings of Karen Clarke and her son, Leroy “B.J.” Brown, ends in January 2022 and he is scheduled to be immediately transferred to federal prison to begin a 35-year sentence for drug dealing. But he is asking a federal judge to reduce the federal sentence to time served in state prison and change it from consecutive to concurrent with the state sentence.
If successful, Peeler, now 44, would be a free man in a year. It is not clear when the judge will rule.
Peeler argues in court documents that his federal sentence is only for dealing drugs and is exactly the kind of lengthy drug sentence targeted by the First Step Act. He also submitted letters of support from college professors and fellow inmates praising his efforts to educate himself and mentor other prisoners while behind bars.
“I give no reasons for, nor do I make any excuses for the choices that I have made,” Peeler wrote in a letter to the federal judge considering the First Step Act arguments.
He added, “The truth is that I no longer see the world at 43 in the same way that I saw it at 22. I realize, sadly, that I stole a lot from my community. Now I would just like the opportunity to give back in a more meaningful way.”
Peeler’s federal public defender, James Maguire, and the U.S. attorney’s office declined to comment for this story. A message seeking comment was left for Corradino, the state prosecutor.
Relatives of 8-year-old B.J. and his mother are joining prosecutors in opposition to Peeler’s sentence reduction request.
“The evil of Adrian Peeler is senseless and I will never be able to understand how a grown man could heartlessly kill an eight year old,” Clarke’s cousin, Janet Gordon, wrote in a letter to the judge. “A monster like that has no place in society, no type of rehabilitation can help him. Without Karen and B.J. in my life today, I can say with a One hundred percent certainty that my life will still never be the same.”
Prosecutors have said Peeler, at the direction of his older brother, Russell Peeler, gunned down B.J. and Clarke in their Bridgeport home on Jan. 7, 1999. Authorities said the brothers wanted to eliminate B.J. as a witness against Russell Peeler in the 1998 killing of Clarke’s boyfriend, Rudolph Snead, a rival drug dealer.
B.J. had identified Russell Peeler to police as the person who shot and wounded Snead in a 1997 drive-by attack that Snead survived, when B.J. and another boy were in Snead’s car. B.J., who relatives said wanted to be the first Black president, was expected to testify about the drive-by attack at Russell Peeler’s trial for Snead’s killing.
Both Peelers were charged with capital felony and murder and faced the possibility of the death penalty for the deaths of B.J. and his mother. Despite Adrian Peeler being the alleged shooter, a jury only convicted him of murder conspiracy and he was sentenced to 20 years in prison on the charge and five more years on other charges.
Russell Peeler was convicted and sentenced to death for ordering the killings. But he was resentenced to life in prison without the possibility of release in 2016 because the state abolished the death penalty. He also was sentenced to 105 years in prison for killing Snead.
The killings of B.J. and his mother led to a revamped state witness protection program named after them.