A Fairfax prosecutor accused of bias in a capital murder trial has not compromised his independence or acted unethically and will stay on the case, a Prince William County judge ruled Monday.
Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney Raymond F. Morrogh (D) was accused by defense attorneys of having entanglements and friendships that could affect his judgement as he pursues murder-for-hire charges against Justin M. Wolfe, 31. Wolfe is accused of arranging the 2001 slaying of Daniel Petrole Jr. in Bristow over a drug- and money-related dispute.
Defense attorneys had argued that Morrogh’s friendship with Prince William County Commonwealth’s Attorney Paul B. Ebert (D) should preclude him from trying the case. Ebert tried the case originally, in 2002, when Wolfe was convicted of the charges against him and sentenced to death.
But those convictions were vacated by a federal court recently after a judge found that Ebert’s office didn’t turn over key evidence that could have been used in Wolfe’s defense.
Ebert then stepped aside in the case and asked that Morrogh be appointed special prosecutor. Defense attorneys argued that Ebert shouldn’t be able to pick his successor, and that Morrogh might try to protect the reputation of his friend and former campaign donor.
But Circuit Court Judge Mary Grace O’Brien said that there was no precedent for defense lawyers being able to select a special prosecutor either. She said defense attorneys offered no tangible evidence that Morrogh had acted unethically.
“There’s no evidence that [Morrogh’s] relationships will cause him to abandon his duties,” O’Brien said.
Morrogh said in an interview that while he and Ebert have known each other a long time, the charge of bias was “vastly overblown.”
“I would never shirk my duty to seek justice in any case,” he said. ”I have a lot of friends out here. I’m an honest person, I’ll do an honest job.”
Wolfe is scheduled to be tried for the second time on murder-for-hire charges in January.