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Posted January 31, 2008 | comments Leave a comment

Bell seems bound for death chamber once again

By Garren Shipley -- Daily Staff Writer

WINCHESTER — Edward N. Bell’s last best chance to avoid Virginia’s death chamber evaporated with a one-page court order this week.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit denied Bell’s petitions for re-hearing before both a three-judge panel and the entire court in a two-sentence order late Tuesday.

Bell had asked the court to reconsider its ruling of earlier this year, in which it declined to order a new sentencing for the condemned Jamaican national.

Bell was convicted in 2001 of the 1999 slaying of Winchester police Sgt. Ricky M. Timbrook. Since then, both the Virginia Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court have declined to overturn his conviction.

He was originally scheduled to die in January 2005, but the execution was put on hold by a U.S. District Court judge while Bell pursued his appeal.

A spokesman for the Virginia Attorney General’s Office said that a Winchester Circuit Court judge would likely set a new date for execution in the coming days.

Lawyers for the condemned killer have argued for years that Bell’s initial legal team didn’t do an adequate job in trying to keep Bell out of the death chamber — and that their client deserves at the very least a new sentencing hearing.

The dispute arises from the sentencing phase of Bell’s trial in Winchester. His lawyers at the time put on very little mitigating evidence to convince at least one of the 12 jurors to vote for life in prison instead of a death sentence, according to Bell’s new legal team.

They have argued that his sentencing lawyers should have looked for more relatives who could say good things about Bell or even put his children on the stand.

But Bell’s initial team made a strategic decision not to put on mitigating evidence, ac-cording to Senior Assistant Attorney General Katherine P. Baldwin.

Baldwin argued before several courts that virtually anything Bell’s lawyers could have presented at trial would have done more harm than good.

For example, putting Bell’s children on the stand would have opened the door for prosecutors to put Timbrook’s widow, who was pregnant at the time of the slaying, on the stand to tell how her child would never know its father.

The three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals concurred earlier this month and reaffirmed its decision late Tuesday.

Now Bell’s only chance of avoiding lethal injection or electrocution lies with the U.S. Supreme Court or Democratic Gov. Timothy M. Kaine.

Kaine has largely allowed executions to go forward despite his personal opposition to the death penalty.

A pending U.S. Supreme Court case over the constitutionality of current methods of lethal injection could buy Bell more time. The nine justices are reviewing a Kentucky death row inmate’s contention that the three-drug cocktail used to kill constitutes cruel and unusual punishment, and have already postponed one pending Virginia execution.

Justices heard arguments in that case on Jan. 7.

* Contact Garren Shipley at gshipley@nvdaily.com


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