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Posted April 3, 2008 | Copyright © The Northern Virginia Daily
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Bell: Another path taken with Supreme Court

By Garren Shipley -- Daily Staff Writer

WINCHESTER — Edward N. Bell was given a temporary reprieve from execution this week by Democratic Gov. Timothy M. Kaine.

But unless his appellate lawyers can convince the U.S. Supreme Court to act, Bell still has an appointment with the executioner’s needle on July 24.

That’s one reason his lawyers filed yet another brief with the high court on Tuesday at roughly the same time that Kaine announced he was putting all executions in Virginia on hold until the U.S. Supreme Court reaches a decision in a Kentucky lethal injection case.

Bell’s lawyers want the nine justices to hear their case in order to resolve, among other issues, alleged differences between the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit and its sister courts around the country.

The courts have apparently taken different views on how to deal with so-called “double-edged” mitigation evidence that could help or hurt a capital defendant during the sentencing phase of the trial. But there is no conflict, according to lawyers for Republican Attorney General Bob McDonnell.

“Contrary to [the commonwealth’s] view, this circuit split is mature, well-defined, and recognized by multiple courts,” Bell’s lawyers wrote. “There is no reason for this Court to await further percolation.”

Any four justices could vote to take the case at any time. Such announcements are usually made on Monday mornings.

Any reprieve, however short, is a welcome one for Bell’s family and friends.

“That’s great, that’s great. Oh, God, we’ve been waiting for this,” said Joanne Nicholson, the grandmother of three of Bell’s children, in what could only be described as elation when told of Kaine’s decision Tuesday.

Family and friends were preparing for the April 8 execution as best they could, including taking care of some necessary but unpleasant necessities.

“I was just up there talking to a funeral director,” Nicholson said. “At least he’ll be here a little more longer, we can go see him.”

Local legislators were nothing short of outraged at Kaine’s decision on Tuesday, charging that he violated a repeated vow to uphold the death penalty despite his personal opposition.

“I’ve been expecting this for 18 months,” said Sen. Mark Obenshain, R-Harrisonburg.

But no matter how aggravated the local delegation is, Virginia governors need their absolute power to stay and commute sentences and issue pardons, Obenshain said.

Blanket stays like the one issued by Kaine are problematic, but the executive branch needs the power to review each and every case to preserve the interests of justice if special circumstances arise, he said.

Bell is now slated to die on July 24.

* Contact Garren Shipley at gshipley@nvdaily.com

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