Posted February 15, 2008 | comments Leave a comment

Bell set to die April 8

By Garren Shipley -- Daily Staff Writer

WINCHESTER — Seven years after a Winchester Circuit Court jury sentenced Edward N. Bell to death, the court has set the date for his sentence to be carried out.

Pending intervention by the U.S. Supreme Court or Gov. Timothy M. Kaine, Bell will be ushered into Virginia’s death chamber on April 8.

The date was set after a conference call with a Winchester Circuit Court judge, Commonwealth’s Attorney Alex Iden and Bell’s legal team, Iden said Thursday.

While it is possible that Bell could file a lower-court appeal, his fate is most likely in the hands of the high court or Kaine.

“The courts of the commonwealth have dealt with this case for the last time,” Iden said.

Bell was convicted in 2001 of the 1999 murder of Winchester police Sgt. Ricky L. Timbrook. Since then, he has twice appealed his case to the Virginia Supreme Court and once to the U.S. Supreme Court.

He has been turned away every time.

Bell’s last round of appeals began in late 2004, when U.S. District Court Judge James P. Jones stayed a January 2005 execution date in order to give the inmate enough time to pursue his appeal through the federal court system.

For a time, it looked as if Bell would at least win a new sentencing hearing. Jones held an evidentiary hearing in July 2005 to determine if his lawyers at sentencing did a reasonable job in trying to convince at least one juror to vote for life in prison over death.

At the conclusion of the hearing, Jones castigated Bell’s initial legal team from the bench, saying that the lawyers missed easily accessible witnesses who could have helped to “humanize” Bell.

But Jones went on to rule a “reasonable” juror probably would have sentenced Bell to death because of the mountain of character evidence against him, a twist that literally left mouths hanging open in the courtroom.

Jones’ willingness to hear new evidence has been the high-water mark of Bell’s appeals to date.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit heard oral arguments in Bell’s appeal, but turned down his appeal and his request for a re-hearing in a matter of weeks.

Bell’s attorneys have promised an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. Attorney James G. Connell signed a certificate for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit promising that an appeal to the high court was in the offing.

They’ve also said in broad court filings that they might challenge the constitutionality of Virginia’s lethal injection procedures.

One lethal injection challenge is already pending before the U.S. Supreme Court. The nine justices heard oral arguments in Baze v. Rees last month.

In that case, an inmate in Kentucky challenged the constitutionality of that state’s three-drug cocktail used in lethal injection. The drugs could cause intense suffering if administered incorrectly, according to lawyers for the condemned Kentucky inmate.

But Bell can’t challenge the constitutionality of lethal injection, according to court filings by the Virginia Attorney General’s Office.

Virginia has two methods of execution — electrocution and lethal injection. Electrocution has already been deemed to be constitutional, so Bell isn’t facing an unconstitutional mode of death even if the justices hold the three-drug mix to be unconstitutional.

If Kaine or the courts decline to intervene, Bell will die shortly after 9 p.m. on April 8.

* Contact Garren Shipley at gshipley@nvdaily.com

Death march: Edward N. Bell’s long legal journey nears an end

* Oct. 29, 1999: Winchester police Sgt. Ricky L. Timbrook is shot and killed after pursuing Bell. The Jamaican national is later found hiding in the basement of a house on East Piccadilly Street, not far from where police recover the gun used to kill Timbrook.

* Jan. 20, 2001: Bell goes on trial in Winchester Circuit Court after a long series of motions.

* Jan 26, 2001: A jury of nine women and three men finds Bell guilty of capital murder. The same jury takes less than an hour to sentence Bell to death. The dearth of mitigation witnesses presented by the defense team will later become an major issue on appeal.

* June 7, 2002: The Virginia Supreme Court upholds Bell’s conviction and


* Jan. 10, 2003: The U.S. Supreme Court declines to hear Bell’s appeal, sending the matter back to state courts.

* Dec. 7, 2004: Execution date is set for Jan 7, 2005.

* Dec. 23, 2004: U.S. District Court Judge James P. Jones issues a stay of execution while Bell pursues one final appeal.

* July 6-7, 2005: Judge Jones castigates Bell’s initial legal team for their

sentencing performance after a two-day hearing in Harrisonburg, but stuns the courtroom by not ordering a new

sentencing. Jones also grants a certificate of appeal, allowing the case to move

forward to the U.S. Court of Appeals.

* Jan. 4, 2008: A three-judge U.S. Court of Appeals panel rules against Bell.

* Feb. 14, 2008: A Winchester Circuit Court judge sets Bell’s execution date for April 8.

— Daily Staff Report

Copyright © The Northern Virginia Daily | nvdaily.com | 152 N. Holliday St., Strasburg, Va. 22657 | (800) 296-5137