Wednesday, December 08, 2004

From the Winchester Star in Virginia...looking at the case of a cop killer...

The many steps from the death sentence to death chamber...

The Long Road to Execution

From Star Staff Reports

To be eligible for the death penalty in Virginia, a criminal must commit a murder under one or more special circumstances that elevate the offense to capital murder. Edward Nathaniel Bell met one of those circumstances by killing a law enforcement officer, Winchester Police Sgt. Ricky L. Timbrook.

Once a jury finds a person guilty of capital murder and a death sentence is imposed, the conviction then enters the appeals stage:

* The case is automatically reviewed by the Virginia Supreme Court. That decision may be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

* A death-row inmate may then file a state habeas corpus petition with the Virginia Supreme Court. A habeas corpus petition is a civil action challenging a criminal conviction as unconstitutional. That, too, may be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. NOTE: Bell completed this step of the appeals process on Nov. 17, when the state Supreme Court denied his petition. This allowed the Virginia Attorney General’s Office to schedule an execution date of Jan. 7, 2005.

* If the state habeas corpus petition fails, the inmate may file a federal habeas corpus petition in U.S. District Court.

* Any decision reached in U.S. District Court may be appealed to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

* The decision of a three-judge panel on the 4th Circuit can then be appealed to the entire Court of Appeals.

* The decision of the full 4th Circuit Court of Appeals can be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

If all appeals fail, a Virginia death row inmate can still be spared from execution by a pardon from the governor, which could lead to their release from prison. The governor may also commute a death sentence and order the inmate to remain incarcerated, possibly for life.

— Information provided by Virginians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty.