Justin Wolfe was convicted more than a decade ago for hiring Owen Barber IV to kill another drug dealer, Daniel Petrole Jr.  In 2011, a federal judge overturned Wolfe’s conviction due to prosecutorial misconduct.  The judge said that prosecutors withheld evidence on purpose.  U.S. district court found that the office of Paul B. Ebert didn’t turn over key exculpatory evidence to the defense.

Owen Barber has changed his story several times, but most recently acknowledged falsely implicating Wolfe in order to get a better plea deal for himself.  Following the overturned conviction, a federal court halted the retrial of the Prince William County, Virginia man.  Prosecutors appealed the overturned conviction and injunction and the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals granted them the authority to retry Wolfe.  The 4th Circuit ruled that the federal court did not have the authority to halt the capital murder retrial, in a 2-1 decision.  The 4th Circuit did rule against prosecutors and uphold the overturned conviction.  Virginia prosecutors are now free to pursue a new case against Justin Michael Wolfe.  Wolfe has been behind bars since 2002.  Prosecutors allege that Wolfe owed Petrole money.

At the original trial, Barber testified to a jury that Wolfe had hired him to murder Petrole, but he later recanted and implicated prosecutors in forcing him to testify falsely.  Ebert and his team visited Barber, the state’s key witness and the admitted shooter in the murder, at an Augusta County prison before Wolfe’s new trial was to begin.  Defense attorneys say that Ebert tried to pressure Barber into again testifying at the new trial that Wolfe hired him to kill Petrole.  Even though Ebert recused himself from the case shortly after that meeting, federal district court Judge Raymond A. Jackson ruled in December that state prosecutors’ conduct “permanently crystallized” errors made in the case and made a fair trial for Wolfe impossible.  Jackson ordered Wolfe’s release and barred any further prosecution of Wolfe in relation to Petrole’s murder. The 4th Circuit overturned that decision and allowed state authorities to retry Wolfe on the original charges or any other charges they feel are appropriate.

Judge Robert B. King wrote in the majority opinion, “We are confident that the retrial will be properly handled, and, if convictions result, that the appellate courts will perform their duties.”

A Prince William County grand jury indicted Wolfe anew in October on six additional charges, including capital murder by order of a person engaged in a continuing criminal enterprise and leading a criminal enterprise that distributed more than $100,000 worth of marijuana. Wolfe, on the stand during his original trial, admitted drug use and sales.

A trial date has not been set.

Judge Stephanie D. Thacker, in a dissent, said that the state’s case against Wolfe should be dropped due to “continued misconduct…it is doubtful Wolfe will receive a fair and just trial. Enough is enough.”

District Court Opinion – July 2011:

“…As the Court has repeatedly mentioned, the only direct evidence linking Petitioner to the capital murder was the testimony of Owen Barber…In effect, (prosecutor) Ebert admits here that his contempt of defendants who “fabricate a defense” guides his perspective on disclosing information. This is particularly troubling…Essentially, in an effort to ensure that no defense would be “fabricated,” Ebert and Conway’s actions served to deprive Wolfe of any substantive defense in a case where his life would rest on the jury’s verdict. The Court finds these actions not only unconstitutional in regards to due process, but abhorrent to the judicial process.”

U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit Opinion – August 16, 2012:

“…The single, plainly momentous item of suppressed Barber impeachment evidence…is a written police report reflecting that — before Barber ever asserted that Wolfe hired him to murder Petrole — Prince William County Detective Newsome advised Barber that he could avoid the death penalty by implicating Wolfe…we do not condone the prosecution’s apparent suppression of other Brady material and the pattern of conduct that it reveals…it is difficult to take seriously the Commonwealth’s protestations of unfair ambush, when Wolfe had to labor for years from death row to obtain evidence that had been tenaciously concealed by the Commonwealth, and that the prosecution obviously should have disclosed prior to Wolfe’s capital murder trial…”


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