One day after Virginia's Supreme Court stayed an execution because one of the condemned man's parents hadn't been notified when he was charged as a juvenile, defense lawyers said yesterday that two other death row inmates might deserve new trials for the same reason.
Throughout the state, lawyers representing juveniles convicted of serious crimes scrambled to determine whether they could appeal on the grounds that prosecutors did not try to track down both parents as required by state law.
An attorney for Shermaine Johnson, sentenced to death for raping and murdering a TV producer in Petersburg in 1994 when he was 16, said yesterday that Johnson's father wasn't notified and that the issue would be raised on appeal.
"I'm very hopeful, but I'm a realist," said Petersburg Public Defender John Cobb. "I'm not going to get too excited until I see something in black and white."
Defense attorneys for Chauncey Jackson, sentenced to death for fatally shooting a man in Norfolk in 1994 when he was 16, said that Jackson's father was not notified.
Such was the continuing fallout from a Virginia Supreme Court decision in the case of Jeramie Baker. The court ruled unanimously last week that Stafford County officials violated state law by failing to notify his father when prosecuting Baker for stabbing a store clerk in 1996, when he was 17.
Before the Baker case, authorities had discounted language in the state law requiring that a youth's "parents" be served with a summons to a juvenile court proceeding. A new state law requiring the notification of only one parent takes effect next month.
Prosecutors have said the Baker ruling could force hundreds of new trials. On Wednesday, the state Supreme Court stayed the execution of Douglas Christopher Thomas, 26, who killed two people when he was a teenager. His attorneys had argued that his case was similar to Baker's. The state Supreme Court is expected to hear arguments in September on whether to grant Thomas a new trial.
In the Petersburg case, Cobb said he raised the notification issue before Johnson's sentencing this year. But Cobb said a Circuit Court judge brushed aside the argument.
The Johnson case is being appealed to the Supreme Court, and Cobb said attorneys would point out that his mother was dead and that his father lived in New Jersey but was not notified. Prosecutors were unavailable to comment yesterday.
Lawyers in another death row case said yesterday that they had begun researching whether inmate Steve Roach's parents had been notified of his prosecution. Roach was 17 in 1995 when he was accused of fatally shooting his neighbor and taking her credit cards and $150 cash from her car in Greene County, north of Charlottesville.
"I've got a guy who, as we speak, is looking through the box," said Roach's attorney, Steven M. Schneebaum. "The threshold question is, `Are there returns of service in those boxes?' and we're looking."
Greene County Commonwealth's Attorney Dan Bouton said of the Roach case: "I think you'll find there won't be any problem." But he declined to elaborate, referring calls to the Virginia attorney general's office. A spokesman said he was unsure whether Roach's parents were notified.
James Broccoletti, a lawyer who represented Jackson, said that although his client's father showed up at the trial, he believes the father was not notified when charges were filed. Jackson was living with his mother and grandmother at the time of the shooting, but his father lived in the area, Broccoletti said.
"It's not as though he was an absentee father and not known," Broccoletti said. "I believe the file is going to reflect there was no attempt to notify him."
Attorneys for convicts with lesser sentences also have been reviewing court records in light of the Baker decision. In Northern Virginia, attorneys for David Allen Moore, of Centreville, who is serving two life sentences for fatally shooting two men in a field near Dulles International Airport in 1994, have filed a petition with the state Supreme Court asserting that their client's father was not told about the charges.
Tom Robl, a Leesburg lawyer who represented Moore, said Moore's father was incarcerated in Florida. Moore was 16 at the time of the killings.