Posted April 29, 2008 | comments Leave a comment

Justices still mum on Bell petition

Hearing sought in 1999 slaying of Winchester officer

By Garren Shipley -- Daily Staff Writer

WINCHESTER — The U.S. Supreme Court apparently wants more time to decide whether to take the case of death-row inmate Edward N. Bell.

Bell’s case was one of many the nine justices were scheduled to discuss at a conference on Friday, but it wasn’t one of the dozens contained in Monday’s list of orders of the court.

Four of the nine justices must vote to hear the case before a formal appeal can go forward.

A spokesman for the office of Virginia Attorney General Bob McDonnell said lawyers there had no information from the court on what the lack of action meant or when a decision might be issued.

Bell, who was convicted in 2001 of the 1999 murder of Winchester police Sgt. Ricky L. Timbrook, has asked the high court to use his case to settle an alleged dispute among various U.S. Courts of Appeal over what constitutes reasonable action with “cross purpose” evidence during the penalty phase of a trial.

Appellate judges in the Fourth Circuit have held that it is a reasonable decision to exclude evidence that could “humanize” a defendant and help convince jurors to vote for life over death if it also could cast the defendant in a bad light.

Other circuits have ruled that if there is no other evidence to submit, it is unreasonable not to submit “cross purpose” testimony.

McDonnell’s office opposed Bell’s request, saying in legal filings that there is no conflict for the high court to consider.

Bell was scheduled to die on April 8, but Gov. Timothy M. Kaine postponed the execution until July 24 so the high court could decide a challenge to the constitutionality of lethal injection.

That decision, Baze v. Rees, came down earlier this month, clearing the way for executions to continue.

Barring action by the high court, Bell’s last chance to avoid the death chamber would be another stay or clemency from Kaine.

A decision on whether the court will grant certiorari and take the case, thus delaying the execution further, could come at any time.

* Contact Garren Shipley at gshipley@nvdaily.com

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