A federal appeals court upheld a lower court’s decision to exonerate a Prince William County man who was in jail on death row in a murder-for-hire case.
In the case, Justin Michael Wolfe was convicted in the 2001 murder of his marijuana supplier, Daniel Petrole Jr. The man who carried out the crime, Owen Barber IV, originally said Wolfe had hired him to do it, but later recanted his story.
During a four-day hearing in 2011, U.S. District Judge Raymond A. Jackson found the recantation credible and ruled prosecutors improperly withheld information that would have discredited their key witness. The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Thursday Wolfe should be exonerated and freed from death row.
Wolfe may become the first wrongfully convicted prisoner freed from Virginia’s death row in more than a decade.
Wolfe may be retried or the ruling could be appealed, but the state hasn’t decided what they will do. They have 14 days to ask for a rehearing and three months to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to review the case.
In a partial dissent, Judge Allyson Duncan wrote that while most of the conviction should be overturned, his marijuana distribution conviction where he was sentenced to 30 years should still be upheld.
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