June 01, 2013

Fourth Circuit Orders Justin Wolfe’s Release, Leaving Open the Possibility of a New Trial

Victoria Edel

In May 2013, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit overturned the ruling of a district court judge who ordered former death row inmate Justin Wolfe to be released without the possibility of re-prosecution. Mr. Wolfe’s 2002 conviction, in which he was found guilty of murder-for-hire and sentenced to death, was overturned based on findings of prosecutorial misconduct. District Court Judge Raymond Jackson found the violations to be so egregious that when he ordered Mr. Wolfe’s release, he also barred the Commonwealth of Virginia from re-prosecuting Mr. Wolfe for this crime.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit disagreed. Although the appeals court affirmed the lower court’s decision to release Mr. Wolfe from custody, it reversed the ban on any further prosecution. Judge Robert King wrote, “[The district court] fashioned an overbroad remedy and thereby abused its discretion.” Despite the Commonwealth’s misconduct, which included repeated attempts to compel Owen Barber, the admitted shooter, to testify falsely against Mr. Wolfe, the court said it is “confident that the retrial will be properly handled, and, if convictions result, that the appellate courts will perform their duties.”

Mr. Wolfe is represented by volunteer attorneys from King & Spalding and capital defenders from the Virginia Capital Representation Resource Center, all who continue to fight for justice on his behalf.

Victoria Edel