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Posted June 8, 2002 | Leave a comment
By James Heffernan The Virginia Supreme Court has upheld the conviction and sentencing of Winchester cop-killer Edward Nathaniel Bell. In a written opinion published Friday morning on the high court’s Web site, the justices concluded: “… we find n
By James Heffernan -- Daily Staff Writer
The Virginia Supreme Court has upheld the conviction and sentencing of Winchester cop-killer Edward Nathaniel Bell.
In a written opinion published Friday morning on the high court’s Web site, the justices concluded: “… we find no error in the judgment of the circuit court and will affirm Bell’s conviction of capital murder … and the imposition of the death penalty.”
Bell, a Jamaican national, was sentenced to death by a Winchester ju-ry May 30, 2001 for the October 1999 slaying of city police Sgt. Ric-ky Lee Timbrook.
Over the course of the 12,000-word o-pinion, penned by Justice Cynthia D. Kinser, the court called the evidence against Bell “overwhelming,” while refuting 16 assignments of error submitted by his attorneys on appeal in an attempt to spare the 37-year-old’s life.
Bell’s assertion that he was denied his right to a speedy trial by two procedural delays — former lead defense counsel Jud A. Fischel’s withdrawal from the case for health reasons, and a request for an independent expert to examine DNA evidence — was dismissed. The Supreme Court subtracted the time required for both continuances and asserted that Bell’s trial commenced within the required five-month period.
The justices also disagreed with the argument that police breached international law by not informing Bell of his rights to contact a Jamaican consulate immediately after his arrest.
According to testimony, Bell was questioned for about 30 minutes before being advised of the protection afforded him under Article 36 of the 1963 Vienna Convention on Consular Relations. Bell reportedly stated that he did not want consular assistance, but the notification was made anyway, almost 36 hours later.
“The record in this case demonstrates that the Winchester Police Department complied with the [necessary] requirements,” the opinion states, stressing that Article 36 does not require consular notification within a specific time frame, including prior to reading a suspect their Miranda rights.
Winchester Police Chief Gary W. Reynolds said Friday he was always confident that his department had conducted a “thorough and proper investigation.”
The international ingredient to the case will likely be the sticking point if Bell’s attorneys decide to appeal the state court’s decision.
Neither lead defender Marie Donnelly, with the Charlottesville-based Virginia Capital Representation Resource Center, nor co-counsel Mark Williams could be reached for comment Friday.
The other thrust behind Bell’s appeal before the high court in April — the seating of an alleged partial, racially stacked jury — was also defeated.
The justices found that the circuit court did not abuse its discretion in refusing to strike three jurors, namely a local law-enforcement student whose initial interest in the case was not deemed excessive.
The court also concluded that Circuit Judge Dennis L. Hupp did not err when instructing jurors during the sentencing phase to disregard the possibility of Bell receiving parole and rely on evidence they had heard and previous instructions they had been given.
The jury reportedly had passed a note to Hupp prior to entering deliberation.
“Given the nature of the jury’s question … any other answer would either have been inaccurate or have led to further speculation by the jury,” the opinion states.
On the question of imposing the death penalty for Bell, the court found “no reason to commute the sentence of death in this case.”
“We are very pleased with the Supreme Court's decision to uphold the conviction and sentencing of Edward Bell,” said Randy Davis, spokesman with the Virginia Attorney General’s Office. “The trial was fair and the sentence was just.”
Reynolds, too, was pleased with the ruling, which he said shows that the criminal justice system continues to work.
“It simply confirms the evidence that was present that proves Mr. Bell was, in fact, guilty of killing Ricky Lee Timbrook,” he said.
Timbrook will never be forgotten, Reynolds said. “He was not only a great police officer but a very fine person and a member of the police family. We all stick together and do everything we can to keep him in our memory and honor him for the sacrifice that he made.”
Former Winchester Commonwealth’s Attorney Paul H. Thomson, who prosecuted the case during trial, said he cannot help but think about the sense of loss, both to the families and the city as a whole.
“It was a difficult case to prosecute in the respect that I knew Ricky as both a patrolman and sergeant. His work was the hallmark of my office. Not too many days go by when I don’t think about Rick, his wife and child, his parents, and all the other families that were severely affected by this.”
Reached at his home on Friday evening, Timbrook’s father, Richard Timbrook, said he went into the day scared of the prospect of Bell being granted an appeal on a technicality, but called the court’s decision “very gratifying.”
He added he fully expects Bell’s attorneys to appeal the decision in the federal courts.
“It’s been almost three years, but he [Ricky] is still in my dreams. I can’t drive by the police station without thinking about him. There will only be closure when they close my casket.”
Bell remains on death row at a prison in Sussex County.
* Contact James Heffernan at firstname.lastname@example.org
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