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Posted March 15, 2003 | Copyright © The Northern Virginia Daily
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Bell attorneys launch last-chance appeal

By Charlotte J. Eller - Daily Staff Writer

Attorneys for Edward N. Bell, sentenced to death for the October 1999 slaying of Winchester police Sgt. Ricky L. Timbrook, have filed a second appeal with the Virginia Supreme Court asking that his conviction be overturned.

Bell’s lawyers, Roy Bradley and Michael Zervas of Madison, filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus with the state’s high court on Friday. They say that Bell’s constitutional rights were violated in his first trial and ask that the case be returned to city Circuit Court.

The appeal may be Bell’s last chance to avoid execution for the October 1999 death.

Bell’s first appeals to the Virginia Court of Appeals and Virginia Supreme Court after his conviction, made on the grounds that there were reversible errors in the trial, were denied.

In January, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to review the case, returning it to the state court system instead. If the state court decides to review the case based on the contention that Bell’s constitutional rights were violated, an evidentiary hearing would be held, Bradley in a telephone interview on Friday.

Or the court may decide that the points raised do not justify the hearing, he said.

There are a lot of issues to consider in the case, Bradley said. “How do you look at the totality of it and not conclude there were serious violations of his constitutional rights,” which form the basis for the appeal, he asked.

Two issues are related, he said. For one, Bradley said, Bell’s trial attorney failed to put on any evidence of mitigating circumstances or “saving graces,” he said.

“He is, in fact, a good and loving father,” Bradley said. “And there was no evidence of that at the trial — none.”

Bell also appears to have either learning disabilities or mental retardation, or a combination of both, Bradley said. “It seems pretty clear that there were mental problems, but it wasn’t looked into by trial counsel,” he said, “and it wasn’t raised.

“There also were some very clear instances of misconduct by the commonwealth,” Bradley said. “There just is no question about it. It’s there.”

In one instance, mitigating evidence to aid the defendant’s case, which the law requires the prosecution to give to the defense, was not provided, Bradley said.

“But the most damning thing is that there was no mental examination and no presentation of mitigation,” he said. “He should have had a thorough examination.”

Even if the examination found he was mentally disabled but competent to stand trial, that still does not mean Bell should be put to death, the attorney said.

“We also think the death penalty is unconstitutional in Virginia,” Bradley said. “Besides, the death penalty serves no useful purpose.”

* Contact Charlotte Eller at celler @nvdaily.com

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