Posted July 16, 2007 | comments Leave a comment

Attorneys file motion to spare Bell’s life

By Alex Bridges -- Daily Staff Writer

Edward N. Bell’s attorneys asked a federal appellate judge to spare him from the state’s death penalty in their brief filed Friday.

Bell faces death for the October 1999 shooting death of Winchester police Sgt. Ricky Timbrook. Appeals by attorneys have failed to overturn a jury’s conviction in 2001 and recommendation that he die for the crime.

But a deficient defense failed at trial to produce evidence that would have swayed at least one juror to recommend a life sentence for Bell, according to the brief filed by the Friday deadline in the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. They argue that their claim shows deficient performance and prejudice.

“Bell’s jury did not see the complete picture: they never knew that Bell struggled with intellectual handicaps and a history of child abuse, that hosts of witnesses thought him non-violent and no threat to law enforcement, and that he loved, and was deeply loved by, family and friends,” his attorneys argue in the brief.

U.S. Judge James P. Jones has stayed Bell’s execution, initially set for January 2005, until the federal courts reviewed his case.

Defense attorneys have made several arguments to spare Bell from the death chamber. They claimed he was mentally retarded, that witnesses against him have recanted their testimony, that Winchester police coerced people to testify against him and that the media had unfairly biased the jury pool.

After months of hearings, the federal judge whittled down their arguments to whether the defense team at trial did an adequate job for their client. Following a two-day hearing in July 2006, the judge answered “no” to that question, and castigated Bell’s attorneys for putting up a defense that may even have helped the commonwealth prove the defendant deserved to die.

However, the judge still ruled that a reasonable juror still would have sentenced Bell to death even if the defense had made a quality effort to “humanize” their client.

According to Bell’s attorneys, with Washington, D.C.-based Latham & Watkins, the federal district court found at trial that counsel’s “inadequate investigation” led them “simply to miss a number of witnesses that would have been available and willing to testify in mitigation.”

Many such witnesses “would have testified to Bell’s good character — his community service work, his close and loving relationship with his family and his children, and the devastating effect his execution would have on them,” the brief states.

Secondly, his defense argues that the “undiscovered mitigating evidence” would have left jurors with a reasonable doubt about his future dangerousness “which would require them to return a life sentence,” according to the brief.

In capital murder cases, juries are instructed to consider the vileness of the act and whether the defendant poses a danger to the community.

Also, his attorneys argue in the brief that the district court denied Bell the time needed to secure visas for several witnesses from Jamaica, claiming that the defense could have had them testify by means other than appearing in person. However, the court then refused to allow any other method to be used, the brief states, “effectively denying Bell any ability to present their mitigating testimony.”

If the U.S. Court of Appeals decides against Bell, only the U.S. Supreme Court or Gov. Timothy Kaine stand between him and the death chamber.

Staff writer Garren Shipley contributed to this report.

• Contact Alex Bridges at abridges@nvdaily.com

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