A Feb. 22 execution date was set yesterday for Joseph M. Giarratano, an inmate on Virginia's death row for almost a dozen years whose case has drawn national attention because of questions about trial evidence.
Norfolk Circuit Judge Thomas R. McNamara, who presided at Giarratano's 1979 trial for the rape-slaying of 15-year-old Michelle Kline and the stabbing death of her 44-year-old mother, Barbara, set the date at a brief hearing.
Giarratano was not brought to court for the proceeding.
Giarratano lost a final appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court in October. Gerald T. Zerkin, one of his lawyers, said the condemned man still has a request before Virginia Gov. L. Douglas Wilder for a conditional pardon.
Giarratano, who was living with the Klines when they were murdered, gave several conflicting confessions after he was arrested in Jacksonville, Fla. He now contends that he was using drugs and alcohol and does not remember the killings, but awoke, found the bodies and fled.
Among the evidence discrepancies cited by supporters of Giarratano's is that Barbara Kline's stab wounds were consistent with a right-handed attacker. Giarratano is left-handed and has limited use of his right hand.
Giarratano's case has been taken up by an alliance of death penalty opponents and national celebrities who say the evidence raises sufficient doubts to stop the execution.
His supporters include actor Jack Lemmon and conservative newspaper columnist James J. Kilpatrick.