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Man Charged With Murder Of Alleged Drug Cohort

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Originally published May 9, 2001, in the Prince William edition.

A 20-year-old Fairfax County man who police say arranged the March slaying of Daniel Robert Petrole Jr. outside his Bristow town house was indicted on charges of capital murder this week, as prosecutors alleged that he hired a triggerman to do away with one of his close business associates in a vast suburban drug operation.

Law enforcement officials said yesterday that Justin Michael Wolfe made a “cold-blooded business decision” to have Petrole killed and then laid out extensive plans for the slaying, which included hiring a friend to pursue and shoot Petrole. Wolfe was arrested last week on charges of conspiring to commit murder, and a Prince William grand jury elevated the charge to capital murder during closed hearings Monday.

Commonwealth’s Attorney Paul B. Ebert (D) said yesterday that Wolfe and Petrole, 21, were business associates in a significant drug operation that involved several young, suburban, middle-class men. Ebert said Wolfe compensated another man before the slaying and had promised to further pay him after Petrole was dead.

Law enforcement authorities said yesterday that Wolfe and Petrole had participated in several drug transactions as part of a drug operation that court records indicate accounted for at least $1.5 million in illegal sales throughout the region.

After Petrole’s death, police inadvertently made the largest Ecstasy drug bust in the county’s history, seizing about 4,000 of the party pills and more than 50 pounds of high-grade marijuana from his Hadrians Court town house -- all valued at $330,000. Police also found about $120,000 in cash.

Petrole was found dead in a car in the driveway of his town house March 15. Police said he was shot almost a dozen times. Police Chief Charlie T. Deane said the investigation quickly focused on Petrole’s connection to illegal drug sales.

“This investigation has indicated a close tie between the murder and a significant illegal drug operation,” Deane said yesterday. “As this rolls out, I believe the evidence will indicate that the drug operation was clearly tied into the arrangements for this man to be killed.”

The drug network led detectives first to Owen Merton Barber IV, 21, of Chantilly, who police and prosecutors say pulled the trigger. In court documents, detectives say that Barber helped Wolfe with drug sales and was recruited into the murder plan, allegedly for money or drugs.

Barber fled the state, and police caught up to him in San Diego last month. Barber has since admitted to shooting Petrole, according to officials. Ebert said yesterday that Barber has been cooperating with police and prosecutors and that he is expected to testify against Wolfe.

Ebert said Barber likely won’t face capital charges in exchange for his cooperation.

Deane and Ebert said yesterday that the investigation into the drug operation is far from complete. Ebert said there are “a lot of tentacles” out in the community. He said the investigation, which has stretched across state lines, likely will involve federal agencies before it is over.

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