Posted June 25, 2004 | comments Leave a comment

State justices deny appeal from officer’s killer

By Garren Shipley -- Daily Staff Writer

The Virginia Supreme Court has denied the appeal of the man convicted of killing a Winchester police officer, but his attorney has filed paperwork asking for reconsideration of the matter.

Edward Bell was convicted of the Oct. 29, 1999 killing Winchester police Sgt. Ricky Timbrook. He was convicted and sentenced to death in January 2001.

The case has been on appeal to the Virginia Supreme Court since 2003, after winding its way through the appellate system.

Writing in an unsigned order last month, the justices held that Bell’s claim that Virginia’s death penalty was unconstitutional — that it is applied in an “random and arbitrary manner” — was without merit.

“The constitutionality of the death penalty has been upheld repeatedly by this court,” justices wrote, citing previous cases.

They also wrote that his claim to be mentally retarded, and thus eligible for some kind of relief, was “frivolous,” because he “fails to present any evidence that he has performed at least two standard deviations below the mean on an IQ test.”

Also among the list of answers to Bell’s claims, the court held that his work history — he was “regularly employed” and otherwise functioned well in society until the murder — indicated that he wasn’t suffering from some form of substantial mental defect.

But the ruling is unfair on its face, writes Bell’s attorney, Roy Bradley, in the motion to rehear the case.

“Bell moved this Court to appoint ex-perts, including a psychologist, to assist in the development and presentation of claims relating to Bell’s mental retardation,” Bradley wrote.

“Without stating any reason, the Court denied Bell’s motion. The Court simultaneously denied Bell’s claim for an evidentiary hearing on mental retardation as frivolous because he did not provide an IQ test score,” he wrote. “An expert is needed for this precise reason, to obtain an IQ score; the fabled ‘catch-22.’”

Defendants aren’t entitled to use state funds to hire any expert they want, Bradley wrote, but “when a habeas petitioner is indigent and does not have the means to obtain the services of an expert on his own, both the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the federal constitution require the state court to appoint the necessary expert to assist the petitioner.”

“The Order’s reliance on the absence of an I.Q. score to deny Mr. Bell’s request for an evidentiary hearing only underscores the need,” Bradley wrote. “To … deny the expert assistance necessary to obtain such a score renders the state process ineffective to protect Mr. Bell’s rights.”

Bell’s attorney also argues that the court should take another look at his client’s case because “the prosecution knowingly presented false snitch testimony on the most material of matters — his ‘confession’ — to get the most severe of penalties, a death conviction.”

Bradley says he has two sworn statements from a witness and his lawyer that claim the witness lied on the stand after police held the possibility of a long sentence over the witness.

But the court held that the matter was largely a matter of semantics, pointing out several instances where the facts were not as cut-and-dried as the defense makes them out to be.

Justices also held that Bell’s claim that his rights were violated under the Vienna Convention, an multi-national treaty that calls for the prosecuting government to allow a defendant to contact and receive aid from his nation’s diplomatic delegation, were without merit. Bell is a Jamaican national.

That issue and several others were raised during an earlier appeal and weren’t proper to be considered in the petition his attorney had filed, the court ruled.

The petition for rehearing also raises questions about the justices’ interpretation of Bell’s filing — some over matters as small as what was meant in a sworn statement by the word “juror” — and other questions about how the jury deliberated, whether or not Bell should have been in shackles during the trial and other questions about whether his trial lawyer made a mistake in not objecting.

The case is Bell v. True, record no. 030539.

* Contact Garren Shipley at gshipley@nvdaily.com

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