Posted August 4, 2006 | comments Leave a comment

Judge tosses killer’s appeal

By Garren Shipley -- Daily Staff Writer

WINCHESTER — A federal judge took less than one page to dispose of a convicted murder’s last appeal in U.S. District Court on Wednesday.

U.S. District Court Judge James P. Jones’ order threw out a motion by Edward N. Bell’s legal team asking the court to reconsider a February ruling in light of testimony given at a hearing last month.

Bell was convicted in 2001 of the 1999 murder of Winchester police Sgt. Ricky Timbrook and sentenced to die. He has twice appealed his conviction to the Virginia Supreme Court unsuccessfully.

The Jamaican national was scheduled to die in January 2005, but Jones stepped in and stayed the execution while the federal courts reviewed the case.

Most of Bell’s requests for a new trial were tossed in February, but Jones said he wanted to hear more about how the defense team prepared and argued against the death penalty at sentencing.

That hearing was held last month. Jones found that Bell’s team did in fact drop the ball, but it wouldn’t have made a difference even if his first set of attorneys had done their jobs properly.

The ruling left only the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, the U.S. Supreme Court and Gov. Timothy M. Kaine between Bell and the death chamber.

July’s ruling wasn’t the end of the case, though. Bell’s legal team, led by Matthew Roskoski and James Connell, asked the judge to reconsider part of his February ruling.

They argued that testimony by his former lawyer, Jud Fischel, during a July hearing constituted new evidence that he and co-counsel Mark Williams were ineffective in preparing Bell’s defense.

Fischel testified that he knew the jury pool, indeed the entire community, in Winchester was hostile toward Bell. He asked for a jury to be brought in from Staunton, but that was denied.

When Fischel and Williams didn’t follow up on the appeal in a higher court, it put the matter out of bounds for any subsequent court to consider. But Fischel’s testimony is new evidence, Bell’s new lawyers argued, and it would let the court consider the matter anew.

Jones didn’t buy it, and sided with Senior Assistant Attorney General Katherine P. Baldwin’s assertion that Fischel’s testimony reflected opinion, not facts, and wasn’t grounds to reconsider the issue.

“After careful consideration, and for the other reasons stated by the respondent in her opposition, I find that the motion should be denied,” Jones wrote.

Bell has been given permission to pursue a narrow appeal to the Court of Appeals, but his legal team has yet to file those documents.

• Contact Garren Shipley at gshipley@nvdaily.com

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