Judge Grants Release of Va. Man Who Spent Years on Death Row

Judge Grants Release of Va. Man Who Spent Years on Death Row
January 2, 2013, 9:13 pm
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A Virginia man who spent years on death row could be released Thursday.

On Wednesday, a federal judge in Manassas granted the defense's motion to release Justin Wolfe, who has twice been charged with capital murder for the 2001 slaying of a northern Virginia drug dealer.

And twice a federal judge has ordered the charges tossed out for alleged misconduct by Prince William County prosecutors.

The most recent order came from Judge Raymond Jackson in Norfolk on Christmas Eve and requires Wolfe's release by Jan. 3.

At Wednesday's hearing, Circuit Judge Mary Grace O'Brien said she will release Wolfe by 5 p.m. Thursday unless an appellate court intervenes.

"I’m just so relieved that she has given us this opportunity and maybe tomorrow he'll be breathing the same air, fresh air for the first time in 12 years," said Wolfe's mother Terri Steinberg.

The prosecution has already appealed to the U.S. District Court in Richmond, News4's Chris Gordon reported.

The prosecutor filed new charges, but today the judge said Wolfe cannot be tried again for any crime in connection with the death of Daniel Petrole Jr., Gordon reported.

Wolfe, who admitted to involvement in a drug ring in Fairfax, was convicted in 2002 of hiring a man to kill Daniel Petrole Jr., his drug supplier. Petrole allegedly supplied hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of high quality marijuana to Wolfe, who sold it in the suburbs. Prosecutors say Wolfe owed Petrole a lot of money.

Wolfe's conviction was thrown out last summer, when a judge said prosecutors knowingly used false testimony from a key witness, Owen Barber. However, Wolfe was ordered to remain in jail.

The appeals judge vacated the conviction after the gunman, Barber, recanted his testimony on Wolfe's involvement.

Barber avoided capital punishment by accepting a plea bargain and testifying that Wolfe had hired him to kill Petrole -- information that was withheld during Wolfe's trial.

Barber now claims that while being extradited from California, a police officer told him they'd go easier on him if he implicated Wolfe.

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