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Letter: Significance of Wolfe's Case

— To the Editor:

In a decision highlighting much of what is wrong with the death penalty, the federal court of appeals affirmed habeas corpus relief for Justin Wolfe on the ground of serious prosecutorial misconduct. [“Another Death Row Victory for Wolfe,” Centre View, Aug. 23, 2012] The court affirmed the lower court’s holding that, in their zeal to obtain a death penalty in a murder for hire case against Mr. Wolfe, prosecutors concealed significant evidence of his innocence, including a report that the investigating police officers told Owen Barber he could avoid the death penalty if he would tell them that Justin Wolfe hired him to kill the victim, Danny Petrole. Mr. Barber has since recanted his testimony implicating Mr. Wolfe and stated that Mr. Wolfe had nothing to do with the killing.

Thus, a threat of the death penalty was used to induce a witness to testify falsely against an innocent man, thereby resulting in a wrongful conviction and death sentence. Were it not for the zeal and persistence of Mr. Wolfe’s attorneys in his habeas corpus proceeding, the misconduct of the prosecutors would never have come to light and Mr. Wolfe — who has been on death row for more than 10 years — would long since have been executed.

While we at Virginians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty are grateful and relieved that justice has finally been served in Justin’s case, we take no pleasure in this outcome. There are no winners in this case, only an assembly of losers. Because of the misconduct of the police and prosecutors, Mr. Wolfe’s family have suffered the pain and ignominy of having their son and brother convicted and sentenced to death for a crime he did not commit. And the family of the victim, Danny Petrole, have had their suffering and grief compounded by the conviction of an innocent man for the murder of their son and brother.

Justin’s case illustrates why we are working so hard to end the death penalty in Virginia. We are grateful to all of you for supporting our efforts and encourage each of you to continue with us on this important journey.

--Virginians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty