Federal appeals court hears murder-for-hire case

Richmond Times-Dispatch on May 18, 2012 released the following:


Attorneys on Thursday argued before a federal appeals panel in Richmond the question of whether a death sentence should be reinstated against Justin Wolfe in a murder-for-hire in Northern Virginia.

Wolfe, 31, was convicted in 2002 of hiring Owen Barber IV to kill Daniel Petrole Jr., Wolfe’s marijuana supplier, in Prince William County. Wolfe was sentenced to death.

Barber, who pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and was sentenced to life in prison, testified as the star witness against Wolfe, but he later recanted that testimony in an affidavit stating that Wolfe did not hire him for the shooting.

Barber later recanted the affidavit. Wolfe has maintained his innocence.

Wolfe’s attorneys argue that no jury would have convicted Wolfe without Barber’s testimony against him, but the Virginia Attorney General’s Office contends that enough other evidence existed to convince a jury of Wolfe’s guilt.

In July, U.S. District Judge Raymond A. Jackson overturned Wolfe’s convictions and sentences, criticizing evidence in the case and finding prosecutorial misconduct. Jackson found that prosecutors failed to provide exculpatory information to Wolfe’s attorneys and allowed Barber to give false testimony.

The Virginia Attorney General’s Office appealed Jackson’s ruling to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Katherine Baldwin Burnett, a senior assistant attorney general, argued Thursday before a three-judge panel at the appeals court that the defense had been given full discovery and that the evidence of Wolfe’s guilt was overwhelming at his trial.

Burnett said Jackson was wrong in concluding that Barber’s testimony was the only direct evidence of Wolfe’s guilt. She said Wolfe’s own testimony corroborated the prosecution’s case against him.

Ashley C. Parrish, an attorney for Wolfe, said that Jackson observed Barber “eye to eye and face to face” at an evidentiary hearing before concluding that he found Barber’s recantation credible.

The defense has argued that the prosecution should have turned over to the defense a police report detailing a conversation between Barber and an investigator.

According to the report, the detective named Wolfe as a suspect and said Barber would not get the death penalty if he told the truth.

Burnett argued that prosecutors were not obligated to disclose the report to the defense. “This is not material,” Burnett said.

Parrish argued, however, that the report would have been important because it showed that Barber was told he should name Wolfe “or you’re going to get the chair.”

Parrish also said that Barber testified at the trial that he didn’t know Petrole and that police knew that wasn’t true. “This trial was so tainted,” he said.

Wolfe is still in prison. His mother, Terri Steinberg, attended Thursday’s arguments.

“Now that we’re a little closer to the door, it’s like the time clock moves a little slower,” Steinberg said. “Hopefully this nightmare can be over for our family and we can finally start to heal.”

She added that the proceedings also are hard on Petrole’s family.

The appeals court panel will rule on the case at a later date.

According to authorities, on March 5, 2001, Barber fatally shot Petrole after he pulled up to his town house in Bristow after returning from a meeting at which he had given Wolfe between 10 and 15 pounds of high-grade marijuana.”


Douglas McNabb – McNabb Associates, P.C.’s
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The author of this blog is Douglas C. McNabb. Please feel free to contact him directly at mcnabb@mcnabbassociates.com or at one of the offices listed above.

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