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April 20, 2017

Virginia Gov commutes death sentence of defendant who has claimed innocence in murder-for-hire crime

As reported in this new Washington Post piece, "Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) has commuted the death sentence of Ivan Teleguz, a 38-year-old man who was set to be executed Tuesday in the murder-for-hire of his former girlfriend." Here is more:

Teleguz has maintained his innocence in the 2001 slaying of 20-year-old Stephanie Yvonne Sipe in Harrisonburg.  His lawyers have argued that two key witnesses have recanted their testimony, calling his guilt into question.  Multiple courts have deemed those recantations unreliable, and the man who killed Sipe has never wavered in saying that Teleguz paid him to commit the murder.

McAuliffe said Thursday that while he believes Teleguz is guilty, the sentencing phase of his trial was “terribly flawed and unfair.”  Teleguz will now serve life in prison without a chance of parole.

In their clemency petition, attorneys for Teleguz stressed that jurors were falsely told that Teleguz also was involved in a Pennsylvania murder — but that purported killing never occurred. Prosecutors pointed to testimony of that supposed crime as evidence that Teleguz “solves problems” with murder.  “The jury acted on false information,” McAuliffe said.

In making his decision, McAuliffe said he reviewed over 6,000 pages of documents, including letters from Sipe’s family.  He called her relatives before his news conference Thursday afternoon.  “My heart aches for the family of Stephanie Sipe,” he said, “but the Virginia Constitution and our sacred values of due process under law require me to act.”

McAuliffe personally opposes the death penalty, citing his Catholic faith. But this marks the first time he has commuted a death sentence.  As governor, he has presided over three executions, and at the behest of correctional officials he has pushed for more secrecy in the lethal injection process....

Teleguz’s plea for a commutation attracted high-profile support, including from billionaire Richard Branson and former Maryland governor Robert L. Ehrlich, Jr.

Investigators and Sipe’s family, however, are confident of Teleguz’s guilt.  “There's no doubt in my mind that he hired these people to kill my sister,” Sipe's sister, Jennifer Tilley, told the Harrisonburg television station WHSV last week.  “And it blows my mind, it really does, that he is still trying to fight and plead for his life.”...

The last time a Virginia governor commuted a death sentence was in 2008, when then-Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D) stopped the execution of triple murderer Percy L. Walton. Kaine commuted Walton’s sentence to life in prison without parole, saying that Walton was mentally incompetent and that putting him to death would be unconstitutional.

Prior related post:

April 20, 2017 at 07:07 PM | Permalink

Comments

Start the countdown to suicide, otherwise known as, European death penalty.

Posted by: David Behar | Apr 20, 2017 8:38:36 PM

Odd, the appellate courts did not find the case “terribly flawed and unfair.”

Posted by: Dudley Sharp | Apr 21, 2017 12:24:25 PM

Not that odd.

Sometimes, when the appellate courts decide things, people like Dudley Sharp disagree. Same with the system in place here where the executive might disagree with the judiciary on what is “terribly flawed and unfair.”

When courts leave judgments in place, the option of executive clemency etc. is left open as a check to show possible problems can be addressed. But, then when it is used, the courts not finding actionable flaws and unfairness is flagged.

Posted by: Joe | Apr 21, 2017 2:40:18 PM

'rat gov.

Posted by: federalist | Apr 22, 2017 8:21:27 AM

"attracted high-profile support, including from billionaire Richard Branson and former Maryland governor Robert L. Ehrlich, Jr."

Robert Ehrlich was a Republican governor. But, given the National Review posted a letter signed by numerous conservatives and libertarians (some familiar names), this is not surprising. For good or ill, this commutation had broad ideological support.

Posted by: Joe | Apr 22, 2017 12:51:00 PM

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