Defense attorneys on Wednesday accused prosecutors in Fairfax and Prince William counties of bias in their efforts to retry a former death-row inmate whose conviction and sentence were overturned by a federal court.
Attorneys for Justin Wolfe sought to put on evidence at an acrimonious hearing in Prince William Circuit Court to have special prosecutor Ray Morrogh disqualified from the case.
The defense alleges that Morrogh, the commonwealth’s attorney in Fairfax County, is essentially in cahoots with Prince William County Commonwealth’s Attorney Paul Ebert, who first convicted Wolfe. Morrogh and Ebert are friends who have collaborated on cases before, including the 2003 prosecutions of the D.C. snipers, John Allen Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo.
Ebert recused himself from Wolfe’s retrial when the federal court that overturned the conviction accused Ebert of prosecutorial misconduct. Ebert successfully petitioned the judge to have Morrogh named as his replacement.
The defense alleges that Morrogh’s friendship with Ebert calls into question whether Morrogh would confront the accusations of impropriety against Ebert, who was accused by a federal judge of deliberately withholding evidence of Wolfe’s innocence. The defense has claimed that Morrogh’s overriding interest will be to vindicate his friend at any cost by obtaining another capital conviction.
A federal appeals court earlier this year upheld a judge’s decision to toss out Wolfe’s conviction and death sentence in the slaying of his marijuana supplier, Daniel Petrole, in a 2001 case that exposed the workings of an elaborate drug ring in wealthy northern Virginia. The court ruled that prosecutors wrongly withheld evidence from Wolfe’s attorneys that discredited the government’s star witness — triggerman Owen Barber IV. who later recanted his testimony that Wolfe was involved in Petrole’s killing.
WUSA-TV reports, "Justin Wolfe of Manassas, Va., convicted in murder-for-hire case, back in court for pre-trial hearing." It's by Peggy Fox.
Judge Mary Grace O'Brien rejected the defense subpoena to force Paul Ebert and Richard Conway to testify in today's hearing. The motion under review today and continuing is whether special prosecutor Fairfax County Commonwealth's Attorney Ray Morrogh should be removed. Ebert, after recusing himself from the case, recommended Morrogh for the job and Judge Obrien made the appointment.
The defense believes Morrogh cannot be impartial in the retrial because of his close relationship with Ebert.
"Letter urges removal of special prosecutor in Prince William," is an earlier AP report by Larry O'Dell. It appeared in the October 25 edition of the Richmond Times-Dispatch.
Fifty-nine former judges, prosecutors and other attorneys sent a Prince William County judge a letter Wednesday advocating the removal of the special prosecutor in a high-profile murder-for-hire case.
A federal appeals court this year upheld a judge's decision to toss out Justin Wolfe's conviction and death sentence in the slaying of his marijuana supplier, Daniel Petrole.
The court ruled that prosecutors wrongly withheld evidence from Wolfe's attorneys that would have discredited their star witness - triggerman Owen Barber IV, who later recanted his testimony.
The letter was filed along with court papers by Wolfe's lawyers, Edward Ungvarsky and Kimberly Irving, alleging that Morrogh has been improperly collaborating with Ebert and his aides as he prepares for the retrial.
They also say Ebert orchestrated the appointment of Morrogh, his longtime friend, prompting "public concern and loss of confidence in the integrity of court proceedings."
Earlier coverage of Justin Wolfe's case begins at the link.
Related posts are in the prosecutorial misconduct category index. The responsibility of the state to provide exculpatory evidence to the defense was articulated in the 1963 Supreme Court ruling in Brady v. Maryland; more via Oyez.