But there was another side to the story of this blended family. Jessie, Dawn Pelley's biological daughter, had harsh memories of her stepdad.
"I just remember a lot of rules," she said. "Like in church, we couldn't talk at all. We had to sit there and listen. If we did talk, you know we got a spanking when we got home."
According to Jessie, it was hard to be a child of a preacher and to "act perfect."
Police found Jeff with his friends at the Great America Theme Park, north of Chicago, where they told him the news.
He freely acknowledged in a 1989 police interview that he did not get along with his stepmother.
"I mean I didn't hate her or anything, but we just tolerated each other," he said.
Jeff couldn't call his stepmother "Mom."
But he told police that he loved his father and had no idea who would kill his parents, and that the news of their murders "stunned him."
From that first day of questioning, police had their suspicions that Jeff may have been involved, but they had no evidence to make an arrest. It took police 13 years to charge the man they thought was guilty of killing the Pelley family.
Investigators focused on Jeff, who had showed up late to meet his girlfriend, Darla.
Darla was surprised that Jeff was allowed to go to the prom because he had been in trouble with his dad. Darla said Jeff was given permission to go by his father at the last minute after the pastor had a change of heart.
Police were anxious to hear from Jeff directly about the battle over prom night. They asked him how long he was grounded for, and Jeff said that his father had allowed him to participate in the entire prom night that same week.
It was that reversal that puzzled police. According to everyone else they had talked to, Jeff's father was adamant. Will Tisdale remembered talking to the preacher about Jeff and the prom the week of the killings, and said Jeff's dad had no intention of letting him drive his car to the prom.
"His dad told me he took stuff out of it, where it wouldn't run," Tisdale said.
The conflict gave police something to work with in a case nearly empty of physical evidence. It made Jeff their one and only suspect, and gave them Jeff's possible motive: to go to the prom and save face in front of his high school sweetheart.
But the case against Jeff was so weak that two district attorneys over two decades refused to prosecute.
Meanwhile, Jeff moved to Florida. Now an adult, he had a wife and child who had nothing to do with Lakeville, Ind. But police, still working on the case, put together an elaborate timeline of Jeff's whereabouts that they believed put him and him alone at the murder scene.
The timeline started from the time the victims were last seen alive to when someone tried to contact them and there was no response -- a period of about 45 minutes. Police also found witnesses who put Jeff at the murder scene during those 45 minutes.
Jacque blames local politics for Jeff's arrest and the police for a sloppy investigation that turned up nothing.
"He wouldn't have pulled the trigger, I believe with all my heart," she said. "I know that Jeff is innocent."
Jeff's defense attorney, Alan Baum, brought his own experts in to attack the prosecution's timeline and the time of death, which police put at 5 p.m. Saturday. Baum said there was definitely "some human activity in that house after, long after Jeff left."