Originally published Jan. 16, 2002, in the Prince William edition.
Prince William County prosecutors finished presenting their capital murder case against Justin Michael Wolfe yesterday, after witnesses testified this week that the 20-year-old was a major drug dealer who hired his high school buddy to kill a marijuana supplier over a $66,000 debt.
The man who fatally shot Daniel Robert Petrole Jr., 21, in front of Petrole’s Bristow town house last March testified Monday that he and Wolfe planned to kill Petrole and stalked him for weeks before the murder, learning his routines. Petrole was shot nine times as he was returning home from making local deliveries of high-grade marijuana worth tens of thousands of dollars.
Owen Merton Barber IV, 21, of Chantilly, testified in Prince William County Circuit Court that he calmly emptied his 9mm handgun into Petrole after following him for almost 32 miles through Fairfax and Prince William counties on March 15. Barber, who is in jail and faces life in prison on a first-degree murder charge, said Wolfe, of Centreville, set up the shooting.
Barber said that Wolfe called him on a cell phone to confirm that Petrole was leaving a Centreville apartment -- where Petrole had just left about $40,000 worth of marijuana with Wolfe -- and that Wolfe offered to reward him with some drugs and $10,000 in cash and told him he would forgive a debt of $3,000 if Barber killed Petrole.
Wolfe’s defense attorney, John H. Partridge, has said that Barber concocted the story out of revenge after Wolfe refused to help Barber in the days after the slaying. Partridge has also contended that Wolfe made Barber jealous by sleeping with Barber’s girlfriend, which she staunchly denied before the jury yesterday.
If convicted, Wolfe could face the death penalty. Partridge called two witnesses yesterday afternoon and is scheduled to continue his case this morning. Partridge has told the jury that Wolfe will testify in his own defense, which will likely occur today.
The trial has so far produced extensive evidence about a vast suburban drug ring that was responsible for millions of dollars in marijuana and ecstasy sales throughout Northern Virginia.
Petrole -- who witnesses said was importing hundreds of pounds of high-grade marijuana from Seattle and was at the top of the local distribution network -- was killed by a member of a branch of the network known for its partying and aggressiveness. Witnesses said that Wolfe and his associates had been seriously planning at least two drug “rip-off” robberies. Barber testified that Wolfe ultimately decided Barber would have to kill Petrole because Petrole “knew too many people.”
Yesterday, prosecution witnesses said Wolfe celebrated the killing with a rum-and-coke toast at a local bar and told at least one friend that he was “about to make a lot of money” because Petrole was dead. Wolfe then hosted his 20th birthday party, where there was ample alcohol flowing, in the upstairs VIP room at the Bohemian Caverns nightclub in the District the next night, sharing champagne with dozens of friends, witnesses said.
Then, they said, Wolfe left for Florida as police were closing in on Barber. Barber testified that he tried to contact Wolfe to seek payment for the murder and to seek help escaping, but that Wolfe ignored his calls. Barber said he then left for San Diego, where he was eventually caught by U.S. marshals.
Barber’s girlfriend Jennifer Pasquariello, 21, of Chantilly, testified yesterday that Wolfe told her and others not to talk to police after the shooting. She said that Wolfe gave her $1,000 so she could meet Barber in San Diego. She said Barber had hoped to flee to Mexico but ran out of money.
“I knew of his guilt, so I went to him,” Pasquariello said, adding that she later lied to police and prosecutors about Wolfe’s involvement and that Wolfe was dismayed when he learned of evidence linking him to Barber. “I thought I was doing a good job of protecting him and helping him,” she said.
Robert “J.R.” Martin Jr., 21, a close friend of both Wolfe and Barber since high school, testified yesterday that he let Barber use his car on the night of the murder because he didn’t want to go along for what he thought would be a robbery.
“I could never believe one of my friends was going to kill someone. Never,” Martin said. “It was obvious Justin was calling [Barber] for him to follow, and I thought he was just going to rob somebody or going to collect a debt.”
Members of the drug network and their friends have said they were shocked that the escalating suburban drug sales could lead to a gangland-style shooting. Outside the courtroom yesterday, Petrole’s father said he was disgusted by Barber’s cold portrayal of Petrole’s shooting and by the manner in which the shooting was celebrated.