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Posted January 10, 2005 | comments Leave a comment

Attorneys no strangers to high-profile cases

Lawyers for Edward Bell have other ‘notorious’ clients in Virginia courts

By Garren Shipley -- Daily Staff Writer

WINCHESTER — The pair of lawyers representing convicted murder Edward Bell in his federal appeal are working on more than just the Winchester case.

They also are involved in some of the highest-profile cases before Virginia courts. But it’s not something the two men set out to do.

“You wind up with a capital case and something goes right with it, then someone asks you to speak at a conference, then at the conference someone asks you to work on another one. It snowballs a little bit,” said Jonathan Sheldon, the Arlington attorney representing Bell.

Bell is on Virginia’s death row, awaiting execution for the 1999 shooting death of Winchester Police Sgt. Ricky L. Timbrook.

Notorious cases often go hand in hand with working for free, he said.

“We’re regularly taking on work and not getting paid for it,” he said. “It’s not a tremendous hardship ... but when you’re willing to take on cases that clearly need work, it means more people are coming to us.”

“A lot of capital cases are in need of people, and they often don’t pay well,” he said.

Those cases also are the ones that tend to grab headlines.

In addition to Bell, Sheldon represents William Joseph Burns, 38, of Shenandoah County. Burns was sentenced to death in 2000 for the rape and murder of his elderly mother-in-law in 1998.

He was convicted by a Shenandoah County Circuit Court jury, but the case is back under review following the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Atkins v. Virginia.

That ruling held that it was unconstitutional to execute the mentally retarded. Both Bell and Burns have claimed that they’re retarded, and thus ineligible for the death penalty.

“We intentionally keep our caseload very low of other types of cases,” Sheldon said. “My familiarity with the issue of mental retardation makes it easier for me to brief these issues. The more experience you get, the easier the whole thing gets.”

Both men will be in court on several high-stakes cases in the next two months. Connell is scheduled to represent Darrell David Rice, the man accused of being the “Route 29 Stalker,” in Prince William County Circuit Court.

Police have accused the Maryland man, already in jail in Virginia for abducting a female cyclist in Shenandoah National park, of trying to get women on U.S. 29 to pull over by telling them they had a serious car problem.

A federal prosecution of Rice for murder in the deaths of two hikers in the park fell apart, but state prosecutors are trying to link him to a number of crimes against women in Northern Virginia.

Sheldon also will represent Paul Powell, 26, of Prince William County, who also was sentenced to death in 2000 for the rape and murder of a 16-year-old acquaintance.

His death sentence was reversed by the Virginia Supreme Court, which found that the prosecution had not proved the rape aspect of the case — the difference between murder and capital murder.

He was sentenced to life in prison, but then Powell wrote letters to the family of his victim and the commonwealth’s attorney. The letters were admitted as new evidence, and Powell was convicted and again sentenced to death.

Connell also is representing one of the two men accused of kidnapping Kathy Gregg, the wife of Sen. Judd Gregg, R-New Hampshire, from her home in McLean in October 2003.

Police say Michael Pierre and Christopher Forbes broke into Gregg’s home, tied her up, demanded money and threatened to kill her. Eventually the two men allegedly took her to a bank where she withdrew money and gave it to them before she was able to escape.

“All of my cases, there’s outrage about,” Sheldon said. “I hear that, and I’m sympathetic that people have suffered a tremendous loss. Nobody disputes that.”

But in the American justice system, both sides must have vigorous representation, particularly in cases where someone’s life is at stake.

“These are people in need, that’s how I look at it. It does not reflect on the victims or the community in any way that we take these cases,” he said. “If you have an adversarial system and you drop one side, you wind up with some terrible injustices.”

* Contact Garren Shipley at gshipley@nvdaily.com


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