A federal judge in Virginia has stayed the execution of a 40-year-old man convicted of fatally shooting a Winchester police officer in the face five years ago.
Edward N. Bell, a laborer who is one of 23 inmates on Virginia's death row, was scheduled to be executed Jan. 7. But in U.S. District Court in Roanoke last week, Judge James P. Jones issued a stay to allow Bell to proceed with the full appeals process in federal court. Bell has exhausted his appeals in the state courts.
One of Bell's two defense attorneys, Jonathan P. Sheldon, said yesterday that it was "pernicious" that the state attorney general's office had requested that a state judge in Winchester set an execution date before Bell had fully explored his federal appeals.
"The public thinks that somehow the defendant manipulated the system to get out of [the execution], when that's not what happened," Sheldon said. "It's unfair to [Bell]. It plays on the emotions of the victims and the public."
J. Tucker Martin, a spokesman for the Attorney General Jerry W. Kilgore (R), said in a statement: "Obviously this is an avenue that they are free to pursue, but we remain confident that at the end of the day the ruling will be upheld."
In requesting the execution date, the state acknowledged in its letter to the judge that Bell still had his federal appeals pending and said that the setting of the date will provide defense attorneys with an opportunity to begin that process, "if [Bell] is so inclined."
Bell has been incarcerated at Virginia's Sussex I prison in Waverly on his capital murder conviction in the death of Winchester police Sgt. Richard Timbrook the night of Oct. 29, 1999, said Marc Abrams, the city's deputy commonwealth's attorney who prosecuted the case.
Timbrook and two parole officers went to an apartment complex looking for a probation violator. They encountered Bell and another man in the parking lot and thought one of them could be the probation violator.
Bell took off running, and Timbrook chased him through the neighborhood. As the officer was climbing a fence, Bell shot him in the face because he feared he would be caught with a weapon or drugs, Abrams said. Bell, who is of Jamaican descent, had a pending deportation hearing.
He was arrested the next morning after authorities found him hiding in the basement of a home near the shooting. In May 2001, he was sentenced to death, and he has since appealed twice to the Virginia State Supreme Court and once to the U.S. Supreme Court, according to one of his former attorneys.
Sheldon, one of Bell's new attorneys, who has a little less than a year to file his federal appeal, said Bell's conviction and punishment are wrong. The attorney said Winchester prosecutors suppressed evidence favorable to Bell and presented false evidence during his trial.
He said he plans to bring forward for the first time a man who witnessed the shooting and told police the next day that the killer was a white man. Bell is black.
Sheldon also said Bell is ineligible for the death penalty because he is mentally retarded.
Abrams, the Winchester prosecutor, said: "We're convinced we charged, tried and convicted the person who perpetrated this murder."