A US federal appeals court has offered new hope to a Virginia death row inmate, ruling that compelling evidence of his innocence must be considered further before he is killed.
Ukrainian Ivan Teleguz had been facing imminent execution even after the collapse of the prosecution's case against him, due to Virginia's procedural bars on the introduction of new evidence after trial.
But in a unanimous ruling yesterday (Thursday), the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals sent the case back down to Virginia's District Court, ruling that Judge James P. Jones had failed to properly weigh new evidence of “actual innocence”. The Circuit’s three-judge panel rejected Virginia's strict interpretation of criminal procedural rules, instead ordering Judge Jones to determine "how a reasonable juror would perceive all of the evidence in the record".
Mr Teleguz was sentenced to death in 2006 on the basis of witness claims that he had hired men to kill his girlfriend; two key witnesses have since admitted that they lied after being pressured by the authorities into doing so in exchange for a lesser sentence for their own crimes.
Virginia's District Court must now decide whether to simply re-evaluate its decision or order a new evidentiary hearing. Mr Teleguz's execution remains on hold until the matter is resolved.
Sophie Walker, Death Penalty Team Director at Reprieve, said: “The Fourth Circuit has done the right thing. Sending a man to the execution chamber without giving him the chance to present compelling new evidence of innocence at an evidentiary hearing is clear breach of Virginia law and the US Constitution. Ivan Teleguz must now be allowed to present his case before a court.”
Teleguz's US lawyer Matthew Stiegler said: "I am pleased that today's ruling by the 4th Circuit recognized the strength of Ivan's evidence of innocence. We look forward to an opportunity to present that evidence before the district court."
1. For further information, please contact Katherine O'Shea in Reprieve’s press office: +44 (0) 207 427 1082 / firstname.lastname@example.org or see: http://www.reprieve.org.uk/cases/ivanteleguz
2. Reprieve, a legal action charity, uses the law to enforce the human rights of prisoners, from death row to Guantánamo Bay. Reprieve investigates, litigates and educates, working on the frontline, to provide legal support to prisoners unable to pay for it themselves. Reprieve promotes the rule of law around the world, securing each person’s right to a fair trial and saving lives. Clive Stafford Smith is the founder of Reprieve and has spent 25 years working on behalf of people facing the death penalty in the USA.
Reprieve’s current casework involves representing 15 prisoners in the US prison at Guantánamo Bay, assisting over 70 prisoners facing the death penalty around the world, and conducting ongoing investigations into the rendition and the secret detention of ‘ghost prisoners’ in the so-called ‘war on terror.’ Follow Reprieve on twitter: @ReprieveUK; if you were forwarded this release, sign up to join our press mailing list.