U.S. Court of Appeals Allows Re-Trial of Justin Wolfe Despite State's Misconduct

On May 22, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit ruled (2-1) that the federal District Court overstepped its authority when it barred any further prosecution of Justin Wolfe. The Circuit Court upheld the lower court's order requiring Virginia to either retry Wolfe or release him, and it further held that Virginia failed to comply with that order. In 2002, Wolfe was convicted of conspiracy and sentenced to death in the murder of a drug dealer in Virginia. His conviction was based primarily on the testimony of the actual shooter, Owen Barber, who claimed that Wolfe hired him to kill the victim because of an outstanding debt. In 2010, Barber testified that his testimony at Wolfe's trial was false, and that Wolfe had nothing to do with the murder. The conviction was overturned by the District Court because the state had withheld crucial evidence from Wolfe's lawyers. The Court of Appeals had upheld that ruling earlier. In the current ruling, Judge Thacker, writing in dissent, would have barred any re-prosecution: “The misconduct of the Original Prosecuting Team has tainted this case to the extent that Wolfe’s due process rights are all but obliterated….The Commonwealth’s misconduct has continued far too long, and the cumulative misconduct permeating this case has tainted it in such a way that it is doubtful Wolfe will receive a fair and just trial. Enough is enough.”

(J. Borden, "Justin Wolfe can be retried for capital murder in Pr. William, 4th Circuit rules," Washington Post, May 22, 2013).  Read full-text of the 4th Circuit's ruling.  For more details, visit DPIC's page on Justin Wolfe.  See Innocence.