Last week, the family of Chantilly High grad Justin Wolfe was hopeful he’d be released from custody after U.S. District Court Judge Raymond Jackson vacated Wolfe’s convictions and sentences for drug distributions and the March 2001 murder of 21-year-old Centreville High grad Danny Petrole.
Jackson said the original prosecutors withheld evidence that could have helped Wolfe, now 31. He also said they intimidated the main witness against Wolfe, Owen Barber IV — who killed Petrole and initially testified that Wolfe hired him for the crime, but later recanted.
Special Prosecutor Ray Morrogh now wants to retry Wolfe, who’s spent the past 11 years on death row. And he believes he has solid evidence for another conviction. But since Barber’s now unable to testify for Wolfe in court — since, according to Jackson, he’s been threatened with the death penalty, himself, if he does so — Jackson said any retrial of Wolfe has also been tainted.
On Dec. 26, 2012, Jackson ordered Wolfe’s unconditional release and barred him from being retried. And last Wednesday, Jan. 2, Prince William Circuit Court Judge Mary Grace O’Brien said she’d uphold that order unless Virginia’s attorney general requested a stay of it by 5 p.m. on Jan. 3.
The stay came through before the deadline so, for now, Wolfe remains incarcerated in the Prince William County/Manassas jail. Jackson’s order had been appealed to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, which granted the stay.
Next step is for that court to hear full, oral arguments on both sides of the issue at the end of this month. All along, Wolfe has maintained his innocence; and although the case against him is still in limbo, his mother, Terri Steinberg, remains positive.
“Though yesterday sent a devastating blow to my family, we will not give up,” she said last Friday. “We pray the 4th Circuit hearing only reassures all that he had nothing to do with this murder.”