A former 82nd Airborne Division soldier who staged a kidnapping while he was still in the Army has been sentenced to more than 12 years in prison for transportation of a minor with intent to engage in criminal sexual activity as part of a plea deal with U.S. attorneys.
Pvt. 2nd Class James Murdoch Peele, who was 19 years old at the time, staged the kidnapping of a 12-year-old girl in New Bern, North Carolina, Oct. 21, 2018, and left a hand-written ransom note demanding $20,000 for her return, according to court records. The ransom note was found by the girl’s grandmother.
Police noticed garden mulch on the missing girl’s bed and dirt smudges on an open window, but no sign of forced entry. Police saw that the girl’s Facebook profile identified Peele as her “boyfriend.”
FBI agents determined that Peele was an enlisted soldier at Fort Bragg and traced him to barracks on post the same day as the staged kidnapping. There, investigators found Peele and the child. A forensic examination confirmed that Peele had recently had sex with the minor.
Investigators said Peele staged the kidnapping that morning and initially drove to his parents’ home in South Carolina along with the girl. Peele introduced the child as his girlfriend and claimed she worked in a sewing shop.
The two stayed at the parents’ home for less than 30 minutes before Peele’s sergeant called him and told him to return to Fort Bragg.
Peele arrived back at post shortly before noon and left the girl in his room while he went to meet with his sergeant, Peele’s roommate told investigators.
Peele returned and asked his roommate to turn up his music. The roommate understood this to mean that the two would have sex behind a sheet that had been hung across the room for privacy, according to court records. The roommate left and the FBI arrived soon after.
Peele knew the child’s true age but told her that age is just a number, the girl later told investigators. She also admitted that she had not been kidnapped. Peele later made a videotaped confession admitting to having sex with the girl and writing the ransom note.
Peele, however, initially told investigators he believed the victim was 18 years old. But he later admitted that he saw her at a sleepover with friends who looked very young, including one girl whose age he had seen to be 12 years old, according to the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of North Carolina.
Upon completion of his 151-month prison term, Peele must serve 10 years on supervised release.
Th 82nd Airborne Division commander at the time, Maj. Gen. James J. Mingus, directed Peele’s separation from the Army in April 2019. Peele received an other than honorable discharge, according to the division.