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Capital Punishment in the United States Explained

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In our Explainer series, Fair Punishment Project lawyers help unpackage some of the most complicated issues in the criminal justice system. We break down the problems behind the headlines - like bail, civil asset forfeiture, or the Brady doctrine - so that everyone can understand them. Wherever possible, we try to utilize the stories of those affected by the criminal justice system to show how these laws and principles should work, and how they often fail. We will update our Explainers monthly to keep them current. Read our updated explainer here.
To beat the clock on the expiration of its lethal injection drug supply, this past April, Arkansas tried to execute 8 men over 1 days. The stories told in frantic legal filings and clemency petitions revealed a deeply disturbing picture. Ledell Lee may have had an intellectual disability that rendered him constitutionally ineligible for the death penalty, but he had a spate of bad lawyers who failed to timely present evidence of this claim -…

Ivan Teleguz - an innocent man on Virginia death row

Ivan Teleguz
Ivan Teleguz
An innocent man, Ivan Teleguz, is sitting on Virginia’s death row for a crime he did not commit. The man who confessed to the murder of Stephanie Sipe is serving a life sentence, but the Commonwealth still plans to execute Ivan unless Governor McAuliffe intervenes to stop it.

False evidence, coerced witnesses, and a murder that never happened

On July 22, 2001, Michael Hetrick killed young mother Stephanie Sipe in her Harrisonburg, Virginia, apartment. Even though DNA evidence at the scene showed early in the investigation that Ivan could not have been the killer, investigators quickly focused on him—Stephanie’s former boyfriend and the father of her young son—as their primary suspect. Even though DNA evidence at the scene showed early in the investigation that Ivan could not have been the killer, the Commonwealth built a case against Ivan based on the word of three men: Hetrick, Edwin Gilkes, and Aleksey Safanov.

These men told jurors that Ivan had hired Hetrick and Gilkes to kill Stephanie. Now, years after the trial, Gilkes and Safanov have come forward to admit they lied when they claimed that Ivan was involved in the murder. Ivan is innocent. Despite these admissions, Virginia plans to execute Ivan.

How the Commonwealth’s Case Fell Apart

Now, both Gilkes and Safanov have come forward to admit that testimony was a lie. In sworn statements and over and over again, both Gilkes and Safanov have confessed that their testimony against Ivan was false.

Gilkes admitted that he initially agreed to give the evidence investigators and the prosecutor asked for because he was scared of ending up on death row himself. In return for providing information against Ivan, he received 15 years in prison for his role in the murder. Now, he only wants the truth to be known so that Ivan, an innocent man, is not executed. 

Safanov also has come forward and admitted his trial testimony is a lie. After testifying at Teleguz’s trial, Safanov was deported to his native Kyrgyzstan. Although this was not revealed by the prosecutor, Safanov has now explained why he testified falsely against Ivan—prosecutor Garst told him that she would get him a visa to remain in the country, despite his federal gun convictions, if he helped make sure that Ivan received the death penalty.

The only evidence remaining against Ivan is the testimony of Hetrick, Stephanie’s confessed killer. Hetrick has stuck to the story first fed to him by police in the face of additional threats from the Commonwealth that he could face the death penalty if his story changes.

The prosecution tried to influence the jury by saying Ivan was involved in a made-up murder. At trial, the prosecutor argued that Ivan should be sentenced to death because he was involved in another murder in Pennsylvania, and was highly dangerous. It was later revealed that the testimony about the murder and the prosecutor’s argument were completely made up—the murder never even happened.

About Ivan

As a young boy, Ivan fled with his family to the United States from the persecution they faced for their Christian beliefs. Ivan’s family comes from a small, rural town in Ukraine, a part of the former U.S.S.R., where the family was harassed and threatened by the Communist government because they were Christians.

After trying for years to escape so that they could worship in freedom, the Teleguz family was finally able to reach the United States. They eventually settled in a small farming town called Ephrata, Pennsylvania.

In prison, Ivan’s record has been exemplary, and he has been chosen as one of the few death row inmates allowed out of his cell to have a prison job.


IMPORTANT UPDATE: A panel of judges of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit unanimously agreed to grant a stay of Ivan’s execution scheduled for April 13th, to give the Supreme Court sufficient time to address and resolve the important issues presented in his case. The execution will NOT be carried out on April 13th.

Click here to take action (online petition)

Source: ivansprayerforjustice.com, April 2016

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