, Salem, MA

November 15, 2013

Serial drunken driver standing trial


---- — PEABODY — A Peabody man who last year turned down an offer for a three- to-four year prison term if he pleaded guilty to his fifth drunken-driving charge was threatened with a trial in absentia yesterday after he continuously interrupted both his lawyer and the judge.

Peter Hurley, 52, now faces up to 81/2 years in prison, after opting to take his chances at trial on charges that include drunken driving, resisting arrest, threatening to commit a crime and driving after license suspension. That trial got underway yesterday in Salem Superior Court.

His arrest more than two years ago, on Nov. 4, 2011, came after Peabody Patrolman Richard Rose was pulling out of a Dunkin’ Donuts onto Walnut Street when he saw a small Toyota SUV drive out of another parking lot, over a curb, without any headlights on.

The officer began following Hurley as he allegedly drove through two red lights, ignoring the cruiser’s flashing blue lights, prosecutor Ashlee Logan told the jury during her opening statement in Hurley’s trial yesterday.

The SUV eventually pulled into a parking lot of a business, then continued on to the back of the lot, which abuts a wooded area. Logan described how Rose watched Hurley get out of the driver’s side and the SUV’s 74-year-old owner, a woman, get out of the passenger side.

Hurley then staggered toward the woods, falling several times. Rose testified that he smelled alcohol.

Logan said Hurley was “combative,” struggling and arguing with the officer. On the way to the police station, Hurley allegedly threatened “I’m gonna stick you, I’m gonna slice you up,” the prosecutor told the jury.

Ultimately, it would take a total of seven officers to get Hurley to the booking area of the police station, where he again fell. He continuously swore, spit blood and tried to kick the officers, said Logan.

Hurley’s attorney, Kirk Bransfield, suggested that the encounter with officers was not as lengthy or violent as portrayed, however.

“It’s within minutes that this whole scenario occurs,” Bransfield said in his opening statement.

And, the defense lawyer said, there is insufficient evidence to support the charges. “It’s not so much what you’re hearing happened; it’s what didn’t happen,” said the lawyer.

Jurors won’t know about Hurley’s criminal history, which includes four prior drunken driving convictions, as well as numerous domestic abuse charges, because that would be considered prejudicial. The only way they might learn some details about his past is if he takes the witness stand in his own defense.

At the time of the arrest, he had been on probation for three months for a domestic assault on his then-girlfriend, an incident that took place in front of the woman’s 2-year-old nephew. During the 2011 hearing where he pleaded guilty in that case, Hurley argued with a judge that he did not need alcohol treatment because he insisted he did not have a drinking problem.

During the time he has spent awaiting trial, Hurley has argued repeatedly with judges. Yesterday, he interrupted Judge David Lowy several times, leading to a warning that he would not allowed to be present for his trial if he continued to disrupt the proceedings.

The trial is expected to last through Monday.

Courts reporter Julie Manganis can be reached at 978-338-2521, via email at or on Twitter @SNJulieManganis.