Virginia Scheduled to Execute Man Whose Lawyers Failed Him
Edward Bell, a Jamaican immigrant convicted of killing a police officer, is scheduled to be executed in Virginia on February 19 despite a conclusion by a federal District Court that his lawyers failed to present any mitigating evidence at his trial. Judge James Jones of the Eastern District of Virginia held that the representation Bell received violated constitutional standards. However, a new sentencing hearing to explore the ample mitigating evidence that existed was never granted. According to the clemency petition filed for Bell, "Judge Jones said in a colloquy with the representative of the Attorney General, 'You’ll agree that there was zero mitigation evidence presented in this case. The brief testimony that was presented, again, as I think the witnesses have agreed, really probably hurt Bell more than they helped him. Certainly those witnesses, there was nothing elicited from them that did anything to shed any light on Bell or his character or motives or background.' Again speaking to the representative of the Attorney General, Judge Jones summarized the situation: defense counsel 'present[ed] no mitigating evidence, zero mitigating evidence. The prosecutor said it, you agree, I agree. The defense counsel presented zero.'"
In addition to the evidence of Bell's positive influence on many people that might have convinced a jury to spare Bell's life if it had been heard, Bell also has evidence of his innocence and mental retardation. Much of the evidence in the circumstantial case against Bell is in dispute, including a key prosecution witness recanting his claim that Bell confessed to him in jail. While Bell meets Virginia’s statutory definition of mental retardation, with testing showing an IQ of 68 with serious deficiencies in adaptive functioning, no court has ever given Bell a hearing to prove his mental retardation. Governor Tim Kaine may stay or commute Bell’s death sentence.