Posted January 29, 2001 | comments Leave a comment

Bell attorneys promise appeal

By Richard Nash -- Daily Staff Writer

Attorneys for the defense of convicted Winchester cop killer Edward N. Bell said Friday that they will seek to overturn their client’s capital murder conviction and death sentence as members of Bell’s family decried the legal system they believe is biased against him.

An all-white jury of nine women and three men took less than an hour to sentence Bell to death Friday afternoon after finding him guilty a day earlier of capital murder in the Oct. 29, 1999 shooting death of city Police Sgt. Ricky L. Timbrook.

Bell’s sister, Marjorie Bell, said the conviction and the sentence are unjust.

“This does not bring the [victim’s] family any justice,” she said. “They’ve got the wrong man.”

Minutes after the jury announced Bell’s sentence, defense attorneys Jud A. Fischel and Mark B. Williams said they will not give up on their client.

“There’s no question that there will be an appeal,” Fischel said. “Absolutely no question.”

Fischel and Williams said they will submit a motion at Bell’s final sentencing on May 30 to have Circuit Judge Dennis L. Hupp set aside the jury’s decision, but will file an immediate appeal if that effort fails.

Virginia law provides for appeals in all death penalty convictions and enough legal questions surround Edward Bell’s case to warrant a new trial, they said.

“Several things occurred during the trial that we certainly are going to scrutinize,” Fischel said.

Fischel said that he and Williams will raise standard questions about the constitutionality of the death penalty as well as objections to specific aspects of Bell’s trial.

The Warrenton lawyers still contend that the state violated their client’s legal right to a speedy trial by keeping him jailed for more than 15 months before initiating proceedings against him on Jan. 16, he said.

“The issue of a speedy trial is a big part of it,” Fischel said. “The court should have thrown this out on that alone.”

Other potential grounds for an appeal stem from a question the jury asked Hupp while in deliberations.

Faced with a choice between sentencing the already convicted killer to death or life in prison without the possibility of parole, the jury sent Hupp a message asking the judge if life in prison would give Bell any future opportunity to get out of jail and return to the street.

Hupp eventually informed the jury that Virginia law requires anyone convicted of capital murder to remain in prison until death, except in the unlikely event of a pardon from the governor, but did so only after the jury finished deliberations and recommended the death penalty.

Fischel said Hupp was wrong to withhold information that could have spared Bell’s life.

“The fact that they asked the question at all suggests that at least one juror was considering a life sentence,” he said. “Someone in there was thinking long and hard.”

Williams, who delivered the closing argument in favor of sparing Bell, said he does not regret anything about his defense.

It was obvious in the penalty phase of the trial that Bell’s criminal history and Timbrook’s exemplary record as a police officer would make a death sentence likely, he said.

The defense’s only hope was to persuade a few jurors that life in prison would be sufficient punishment for Timbrook’s death and that sparing Bell’s life is more humane than executing him, he said

“I was hoping to convince at least one of them,” he said.

Marjorie Bell, a Jamaican immigrant and Winchester resident like her brother, said she believes the jurors convicted Edward Bell in their hearts long before the trial began.

News coverage of Timbrook’s death, just before midnight in an East Piccadilly Street alley, and Edward Bell’s arrest, in a nearby basement less than eight hours later, long ago convinced most Winchester residents of the immigrant’s guilt, she said.

Hupp should have moved the trial to an impartial community, she said.

“This case isn’t news to anyone in Winchester,” she said. “There never should have been a jury here. This is only the beginning.”

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