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Posted June 4, 2004 | Copyright © The Northern Virginia Daily
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Judge deals blow to cop killer’s case

By Garren Shipley -- Daily Staff Writer

WINCHESTER — A convicted killer fighting for his life in federal court received two major setbacks Friday.

Edward Bell, a Jamaican who was convicted in 2001 of the 1999 murder of Winchester police Sgt. Ricky Timbrook won’t get taxpayer-funded help to investigate his case and still must file his last substantive appeal on or before May 17.

Writing in an opinion released Friday afternoon, Chief Judge James Jones of the Western District of Virginia said that there was really no point in giving Bell the assistance he requested.

Justices of the Virginia Supreme Court have ruled on several matters of fact, and federal law requires that those findings be respected, he wrote.

“Even if the … [outside help and research met] Bell’s expectations, Bell still would not be able to rebut the presumption of correctness to which the state court determination is entitled,” Jones wrote.

Rulings that Bell isn’t mentally retarded — and therefore is eligible for the death chamber — will stand up to federal scrutiny as a matter of law, the judge wrote.

Claims that there is evidence in the community that could disqualify Bell for the death sentence or even prove his innocence aren’t eligible to be considered by the federal courts, so hiring someone to investigate them is pointless, Jones wrote.

“[Federal law] … entitles indigent petitioners to reasonably necessary investigative services, but does not authorize federal habeas ‘retrials,’” Jones wrote.

“Bell hopes that if he talks to enough witnesses, he will stumble upon some new evidence to support his claims. The requested services would be duplicative and amount to a ‘fishing expedition,’” he wrote.

Jones also declined to reconsider his ruling that Bell must file his appeal in May, rather than August. Federal law gives habeas petitioners a year to file their claims, but it also allows courts some discretion in setting deadlines.

Bell’s attorneys, Jay Connell and Jonathan Sheldon, have yet to submit any argument strong enough to change the court’s mind, Jones said in his ruling.

The ruling echoes positions argued by the commonwealth, represented in the case by Senior Assistant Attorney General Katherine Baldwin.

Baldwin has consistently held in her filings and oral arguments that the federal judiciary must uphold the decisions of the state courts and respect their findings — in this case, that Bell is guilty and eligible to be executed.

* Contact Garren Shipley at gshipley@nvdaily.com

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