UPDATE: Justin Wolfe Will Not be Released Thursday
An appeals court has denied a request to vacate an order for Wolfe's release, but has granted a stay that blocked him from leaving prison.
UPDATE (Thursday, 5:28 p.m.)
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit today denied prosecutors' request to vacate an order for the release of former death row inmate Justin Wolfe—but granted a stay that blocked Wolfe from leaving prison at 5 p.m. Thursday.
The court will hear arguments from the state later this month.
UPDATE (Thursday, 2:40 p.m.)
The U.S. District Court and the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals have denied the Commonwealth's appeals regarding Justin Wolfe.
Without intervention fromm the U.S. Supreme Court, Wolfe is expected to be released at 5 p.m. today (Thursday, Jan. 3).
Justin Michael Wolfe, a one-time death row inmate whose conviction related to the murder of Centreville's Daniel Robert Petrole Jr. was vacated by federal courts, may walk free for the first time in nearly 12 years Thursday.
Prince William Circuit Court Judge Mary Grace O’Brien said—despite the special prosecutor’s argument—that the federal order called for Wolfe’s release and barred all murder and drug charges stemming from the investigation of Petrole’s March 2001 murder.
“His order certainly calls for the dismissal of the [original] charges,” O'Brien said, adding that she believed it also applied to any charges that “stem from or are related to the death of Danny Petrole.”
Once the decision set in, Wolfe’s mother, Terri Steinberg, fell into uncontrollable sobs for a few moments in the courtroom
“I don’t know if it’s real,” Steinberg said just outside the courtroom, adding that if the news holds it’s the best she’s heard since admitted triggerman Owen Merton Barber IV signed a December 2005 affidavit declaring Wolfe’s innocence.
The first thing Steinberg plans to do when her son is released? “Feed him.”
If released Jan. 3, Wolfe plans to return to his mother’s home in Chantilly for the immediate future—where Steinberg has maintained his bedroom “pretty much” the same as Wolfe had it before his arrest.
Prosecutors and some members of the community continue to believe Wolfe—who has always maintained his innocence—is guilty of crimes. Ray Morrogh, the prosecutor assigned to the case, said he has “hard evidence” to show Wolfe’s guilt. Morrogh also accused admitted triggerman Owen Merton Barber IV of lying in federal court when he said someone else was in the car with him during the murder.
Since the order to vacate Wolfe’s conviction, prosecutors filed new charges in an attempt to correct violations that occurred during Wolfe’s 2002 trial. Those new charges—a firearms charge and criminal enterprise charges, including murder related to a criminal enterprise—should stick, Morrogh said Wednesday.
“Those are different charges,” Morrogh explained, adding that he did not plan to call Barber to testify against Wolfe on the new charges. However, he said in his pleadings that he’d give Barber a form of immunity if he testified for the defense.
“I would give Mr. Barber use and derivative use immunity if he testifies for the defense in any trial, if he tells the truth,” Morrogh said. However, there has been constant disagreement about the truth.
Barber most recently told a federal judge that he conspired with two other people the night of Petrole’s murder and that Wolfe was unaware of their plans, despite being used to get to Petrole.
O’Brien agreed with Wolfe’s defense team that, unless the federal courts stepped in, she would have to order his release.
“It’s another ruling that shows Justin was innocent all along,” said Ed MacMahon, one of Wolfe’s defense attorneys. “It shows that Judge O’Brien respects the federal courts.”
Kimberly Irving, another of Wolfe’s attorneys said that without some action from the federal courts, Wolfe will be released without fear of additional charges related to Petrole’s murder.
“If the federal courts don’t do anything, it should be over,” she said.
Katherine Swanson, a former attorney who along with investigator Bob Lessemun extracted Barber’s 2005 affidavit, was elated.
“It’s just a long time coming,” she said, with tears in her eyes. “I don’t even know how to put into words …”
Petrole’s father, Daniel Robert Petrole Sr., attended the early part of the hearing Wednesday, but left before the judge announced her decision. Wolfe’s appeal on the case has kept a constant reminder of in the news of the Petrole’s painful loss of a son who by all accounts was charismatic and good-natured.
Despite the confidence with which many followers of the case speak of the facts, it appears only Barber could possibly bring full clarity to what really happened the night of Petrole’s death. However, the threat of further prosecution has so far kept him quiet, on the advice of his current attorney.
Check back with Patch tomorrow night to learn whether the federal courts decide to step in.