Prince William judge allows prosecutors to pursue drug charges against Justin Wolfe

November 15, 2013

Prosecutors can pursue wide-ranging drug charges in the capital murder retrial of Justin M. Wolfe in Prince William County, the special prosecutor in the case said.

The charges would carry a mandatory minimum sentence of life in prison.

Wolfe has been imprisoned since 2002, when a Prince William jury convicted him of hiring Owen M. Barber IV, a member of a large Northern Virginia drug ring, to kill Daniel Petrole Jr., a marijuana supplier. Prosecutors have said Wolfe owed Petrole money.

A federal appeals court later threw out and vacated that conviction, after Barber said he testified falsely at the original trial. The court also said prosecutors withheld key evidence in the case.

The case is now back in Prince William for a retrial.

On Wednesday, Prince William Circuit Court Judge Mary Grace O’Brien agreed with prosecutors that they could pursue the drug charges against Wolfe and that they did not have to provide evidence proving his involvement in a “continuing criminal enterprise,” said Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney Raymond F. Morrogh (D), who was appointed in the case.

O’Brien also ruled that the case’s former prosecutors did not have to testify. She overruled defense arguments that Wolfe could not be retried on a charge of felony murder, Morrogh said.

In October, Morrogh brought six new charges before a Prince William grand jury, which indicted Wolfe. The charges included capital murder, which means prosecutors could pursue the death penalty. Wolfe was also indicted on charges that he engaged in a continuing criminal enterprise and led a criminal enterprise that distributed more than $100,000 worth of marijuana.

Testifying in his original trial, Wolfe admitted to using and selling drugs.

In court papers, his attorneys said the new drug charges could not be pursued because prosecutors have provided no evidence of the crimes. One charge could carry a minimum life sentence.

The law that Wolfe is charged with breaking was passed in 2000. Wolfe was arrested in 2001 and has been imprisoned since then. Defense attorneys argued that a crime on that scale could not have been committed within that one-year period.

If prosecutors want to pursue the charges, they should provide evidence of Wolfe’s guilt, defense attorneys said in court papers.

“Mr. Wolfe cannot mount a defense because counsel does not know what specific conduct is alleged, cannot properly investigate that conduct and cannot ensure constitutionally effective representation,” they wrote.

Prosecutors said they are not required to provide a road map to their case. They provided a list of people involved in Wolfe’s drug ring.

“We have no idea what the factual underpinning is to any of these charges,” defense attorney Edward MacMahon said in an interview. “We were hopeful the judge would order them to tell us. We’re going to have to deal with it and go forward.”

Jeremy Borden covers Prince William County, Va., for The Washington Post.
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