Justin Wolfe, having gone through an ordeal eerily similar to that of Ivan Teleguz, has finally had his conviction and death sentence overturned.
After spending years hiding evidence of Mr Wolfe’s innocence in order to kill him, and once ordered to produce it, the Commonwealth of Virginia wasted yet more time arguing that the defence still shouldn’t be allowed to use it to save his life. When challenged by the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, the Commonwealth offered this bizarre explanation of why it had done so, as can be seen in the judgment (Wolfe v. Clarke, No. 11- 6, U.S. CA 4th Cir. 2012) :
‘During Wolfe’s evidentiary hearing in the district court, the Commonwealth’s Attorney explained that his office does not have an “open-file policy,” providing criminal defense counsel access to entire case files. Asked to elaborate, he offered the flabbergasting explanation that he has “found in the past when you have information that is given to certain counsel and certain defendants, they are able to fabricate a defense around what is provided.”’
Thankfully the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals did not accept the prosecutors’ remarkable, but all-too-common view: that it’s unsporting for defence lawyers to use evidence that suggests their client is innocent.
The evidence suppressed included a crucial police report about a conversation Owen Barber, the man who actually carried out the murder, had with a Detective Newsome. Detective Newsome told Barber he could escape a death sentence by blaming Wolfe as the instigator of the crime. The report of this conversation, effectively forcing Barber to accuse Justin Wolfe on pain of death, was hidden from defence lawyers for years.
In 2005 Barber came clean and admitted in a sworn statement that he had lied. This triggered the agonizingly slow process, frustrated at every turn by prosecutors anxious to keep their misconduct hidden, that eventually led to the 4th Circuit upholding the reversal of all of Justin Wolfe’s convictions.
Like Justin, Ivan Teleguz was accused by the actual murderers of instructing them to kill, and like Justin, key witnesses have since then retracted their testimony and stated that they were pressured into making false claims by the Commonwealth of Virginia. The Virginia District Court must give Ivan the same chance to clear his name in an evidentiary hearing that was given Justin Wolfe.