Posted December 7, 2004 | comments Leave a comment

Execution date set for Jamaican convicted in police officer’s murder

By Garren Shipley and Teresa Dunham -- Daily Staff Writers

WINCHESTER — Virginia has set the execution of convicted murderer Edward Bell for Jan. 7, but people on all sides of the case say it is unlikely the date will hold.

Bell was sentenced to death in 2001 following conviction on charges of capital murder. A jury found him guilty of the October 1999 murder of Winchester police Sgt. Ricky Timbrook and sentenced him to death.

Bell’s last appeal to the Virginia Supreme Court was turned away in an unsigned opinion issued in June, and a petition for rehearing was denied in November, essentially ending the state court system’s involvement with the case.

Previous appeals had asked courts to throw out the sentence and conviction for several reasons, including that Bell has a low IQ — low enough to qualify as mentally retarded — and thus shouldn’t be executed.

The court disagreed, however, saying that the claim hadn’t been proven during the trial.

But Bell’s attorney, Roy Bradley, said Tuesday that there are still a number of appeals that can be filed at the federal level, starting with the district court in either Harrisonburg or Richmond.

The first step is to file for a stay of execution.

“Once a petition is filed, the court will decide whether or not it has merit and if they want to hear it,” Bradley said. “I think they will” grant the stay and hear the matter.

If the district courts decline to act, Bell can then appeal to a panel of judges on the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, then the full court. From there, any appeals would be made to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The execution date is more of a procedural formality than notice of an impending execution, Bradley said.

“There had to be an execution date set before we could go on to the next step,” he said, which is the federal appellate process.

“The procedures in the federal courts … will take at least two years,” Bradley said.

Winchester Commonwealth’s Attorney Alex Iden said he agreed, and that it is very unlikely that Bell would die on Jan. 7.

There are appellate options open to Bell, but “his execution date will stand if he takes no action,” Iden said, noting that Bell was the first person to come through the city’s court’s to face an execution date.

Regardless of how the case proceeds, Bell could have a new attorney at his side through the secondary appellate process.

Bradley said his firm may not represent Bell in the future. His appointment to serve as Bell’s representative concluded when the execution date was set. A federal judge may return him to the case, but that’s not a certainty.

It took a very specific combination of circumstances to trigger Virginia’s death penalty statute in this case, Iden said. Had Timbrook not been a police officer on duty or if the jury had found that Bell wasn’t likely to commit another crime, he likely would have been sentenced to life in prison.

“Murder of a police officer in the course of his duties is a capital crime, but the jury had to determine that there was a future probability that he would commit criminal acts again,” Iden said.

Bell shot and killed Timbrook following a foot chase on East Piccadilly Street just before midnight on Oct. 29, 1999.

Iden said his thoughts were with the victim’s family this time of year.

“I think the emotional impact that this has had and continues to have on Sgt. Timbrook’s family is difficult,” he said. “Our heart and our prayers go out to them.”

Bell, a Jamaican, is one of 118 foreign nationals awaiting execution in the United States.

* Contact Garren Shipley at gshipley@nvdaily.com. Contact Teresa Dunham at tdunham-@nvdaily.com

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