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America Is Stuck With the Death Penalty for (At Least) a Generation

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With Justice Anthony Kennedy's retirement, the national fight to abolish capital punishment will have to go local.
When the Supreme Court revived capital punishment in 1976, just four years after de facto abolishing it, the justices effectively took ownership of the American death penalty and all its outcomes. They have spent the decades since then setting its legal and constitutional parameters, supervising its general implementation, sanctioning its use in specific cases, and brushing aside concerns about its many flaws.
That unusual role in the American legal system is about to change. With Justice Anthony Kennedy’s retirement from the court this summer, the Supreme Court will lose a heterodox jurist whose willingness to cross ideological divides made him the deciding factor in many legal battles. In cases involving the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment, his judgment often meant the difference between life and death for hundreds of death-row pr…

Clemency petition filed on behalf of Ivan Teleguz, set to be executed this month in Virginia

Ivan Teleguz
Ivan Teleguz
Lawyers for condemned murder-for-hire killer Ivan Teleguz are asking Gov. Terry McAuliffe to stop his execution, set for April 25, in a clemency petition delivered Friday.

The petition contends the jurors who convicted and sentenced Teleguz to death relied on testimony since proved false and recanted.

“Significant information has emerged since Teleguz’s trial suggesting he is innocent,” his lawyers said in a statement Friday.

“In this case — where new evidence jurors never had a chance to consider shows that Mr. Teleguz’s conviction and death sentence are based on false testimony — Governor McAuliffe should protect the integrity of the ultimate sanction and grant clemency to ensure that Virginia does not execute an innocent man,” said Elizabeth Peiffer, Teleguz’s lawyer.

Asked for comment Friday, Marsha L. Garst, the commonwealth’s attorney for Rockingham County, wrote in an email that, “All the issues have been very thoroughly tried and decided in local, state and federal courts. I feel at this stage that since the case is being handled by the Attorney General’s Office, that they should address any questions.”

A spokesman for the Attorney General’s Office referred inquiries to the governor’s office, which did not immediately respond to a request for comment Friday. Governors generally have not commented on pending clemency requests.

Teleguz, 38, was sentenced to death for the 2001 capital murder of Stephanie Yvonne Sipe, the mother of their 23-month-old son. Sipe was stabbed to death in her Harrisonburg apartment. Trial evidence showed that Teleguz was angry that he had been ordered to pay child support.

He hired two men to kill Sipe for $2,000 and drove them from Pennsylvania, where Teleguz had moved. Sipe suffered defensive wounds and three other knife wounds — one wound went from the left side of her neck to the right side. The body was discovered by a neighbor who also found her son, unharmed, in a bathtub full of water.

The unanimous three-judge panel of the Richmond-based 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected a stay request and a related matter last month.

But Teleguz’s lawyers argue that the new evidence pointing to his innocence has never been fully examined by the courts. They say two prosecution witnesses admitted “that they testified falsely in exchange for leniency in their own cases, and have no reason to think Teleguz was involved in the murder-for-hire.”

One of the witnesses has been deported, and the other was told he would lose his release date set for next year if he went back on his testimony.

Teleguz also says jurors relied on false testimony that he was involved in an additional murder in Pennsylvania. Investigation since trial by law enforcement and by the defense has confirmed that the murder never happened.

His lawyers contend the only evidence remaining against Teleguz is the testimony of Michael Hetrick, the actual killer who was spared the death penalty. His lawyers said the clemency petition details why his testimony is not credible or reliable.

Among other things, his lawyers said the petition is supported by an expert on clemency and former Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich, Jr., who oversaw two executions as governor there from 2003 to 2007.

A Change.org petition in support of clemency has been signed by more than 113,000 people, and Teleguz also has submitted written requests for clemency from thousands of supporters.

Source: Richmond Times-Dispatch, Frank Green, April 8, 2017

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