A man accused of capital murder who has sat behind bars for more than a decade will not be going home as his family and attorneys were hoping, a federal appeals court decided Thursday afternoon.
The late afternoon decision in the case of Justin M. Wolfe, 31, left defense attorneys scrambling. Wolfe is accused of ordering the 2001 murder of Daniel Petrole Jr., his marijuana supplier.
A federal judge in Norfolk decided to bar further prosecution of Wolfe and ordered him out of jail at 5 p.m. Thursday, said Ashley Parrish, one of Wolfe’s attorneys.
But the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond halted the lower court order and decided to hear arguments later this month.
Wolfe was convicted of orchestrating the slaying of Petrole in 2001. In 2002, Wolfe was convicted of arranging the killing of Petrole, a marijuana supplier whom he allegedly owed large sums of money. But the case was overturned and the sentence vacated in 2011 by U.S. District Judge Raymond A. Jackson. Jackson, whose decision was later upheld, found that Prince William prosecutors had withheld important evidence from the defense and had supported false testimony given by the case’s key witness, Owen M. Barber IV.
Barber fired the shots that killed Petrole and testified at Wolfe’s trial that Wolfe had paid him to do it. But Barber recanted his testimony and said that Wolfe was not involved in the killing. Barber has changed his story several times over the years.
Jackson ordered that prosecutors had 120 days to either retry Wolfe or release him.
Last week, Jackson ruled that prosectors had failed to bring the new case within that time frame; he also agreed with defense attorneys’ criticism of the case’s former prosecution team, lead by Prince William Commonwealth’s Attorney Paul B. Ebert (D), for visiting Barber and telling him the consequences of changing his story.
Jackson wrote that the meeting “permanently crystallized” the constitutional problems with the case.
Ebert, who has recused himself from the case, declined to comment. The case’s appointed special prosecutor, Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney Raymond Morrogh, has said that he believes Wolfe was involved in the killing and should be retried for the crime.