Thirty-one members of the legal community, including former prosecutors and judges from across the country, have signed a letter asking a Prince William County Circuit Court judge to remove a special prosecutor appointed to oversee a capital murder case.
The letter was circulated by the District-based Constitution Project, which advocates on a host of issues relating to the U.S. Constitution. It asks Circuit Court Judge Mary Grace O’Brien to find a replacement in the case of Justin Michael Wolfe, who is charged in the 2001 slaying of Daniel Petrole Jr. in Bristow.
The prosecution of that case by the office of Commonwealth’s Attorney Paul B. Ebert (D) has come under fire by a federal appeals court, which vacated Wolfe’s original conviction and asked that he be retried because, a judge ruled, Ebert’s office had not properly turned over evidence to defense attorneys.
O’Brien has been asked to replace special prosecutor Raymond F. Morrogh, who is Fairfax County’s commonwealth’s attorney, because Ebert recommended that he get the job after his office stepped aside. The letter from the Constitution Project criticized Morrogh for saying he would pursue the capital murder charges after being appointed less than a day earlier.
“This suggests a hurried decision in which the special prosecutor did not carefully examine the evidence to reach an independent conclusion about the case, but instead relied on the earlier deliberation of the Prince William County prosecutors — prosecutors who were responsible for the misconduct and errors in judgment that left Mr. Wolfe on death row for more than a decade,” the letter says.
Although the federal appeals court said that Prince William prosecutors did not properly turn over key evidence to Wolfe’s attorneys, they left the door open for Ebert to retry Wolfe.
Ebert is listed in the “endorsements” section of Morrogh’s campaign Web site.
“Ray Morrogh is a competent attorney,” Ebert has said. “I think he’d do a good job on any case in which he was appointed.”
Ebert said Wolfe’s attorneys were initially fine with the appointment of Morrogh but changed their opinion once Morrogh decided to pursue the capital murder charge.
Morrogh has said that he “isn’t aware of any” conflicts to being appointed as special prosecutor and that he’s “willing to serve.”
O’Brien is likely to make a decision at the end of the month on whether to replace Morrogh.