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New information would be required for lawyers to prevent lethal injection

By Garren Shipley -- Daily Staff Writer

WINCHESTER — Though the U.S. Supreme Court’s action Monday ended convicted murder Edward N. Bell’s best hopes of staying out of the death chamber, it isn’t necessarily the absolute end.

Federal law does give Bell’s legal team a very narrow way forward through the court system.

But to succeed, his lawyers would need to come forward with new information that “could not have been discovered previously through the exercise of due diligence,” according to federal law. The new information would have to be so convincing that “no reasonable factfinder would have found the applicant guilty of the offense.”

Bell’s best chance to avoid the death chamber now lies in the hands of Democratic Gov. Timothy M. Kaine. The Virginia Constitution gives governors absolute power to stay executions or commute sentences.

Kaine spokesman Gordon Hickey declined to comment, noting that the governor’s office never discusses clemency petitions.

The governor has saved Bell from the death chamber once before. Kaine issued a stay of execution on April 1 in order to give the U.S. Supreme Court more time to reach a decision on the constitutionality of lethal injection.

Justices ruled in the case just days later, and Kaine allowed executions to resume. Four condemned inmates have been executed in Virginia since then.

Bell’s case is unique due to its political overtones.

Kaine’s Republican opponent in the 2005 gubernatorial election, former Attorney General Jerry Kilgore, launched a broadside against the Democrat in the closing days of the campaign over his views on the death penalty.

Kilgore’s team went on the air with two ads featuring family members of murder victims, including one featuring Kelly Timbrook, the wife of the Winchester police sergeant Bell killed in 1999.

“I don’t trust Tim Kaine to uphold that law,” she says in the ad.

In the meantime, state law lays out the way forward.

Attorney General Bob McDonnell’s office is required to notify a judge in Winchester Circuit Court that the U.S. Supreme Court has disposed of the case.

That judge will then have 10 days to set an execution date for Bell — not more than 60 days later.

About two weeks before the execution, prison officials will move Bell from death row at Sussex I state prison to death row in Jarrat.

Procedures from that point forward are a closely held secret, but court records from other cases have provided a broad outline of how executions are carried out.

At 8:30 p.m. on the day of the execution, the condemned is led to a shower where he cleans up and re-dresses. About 20 minutes later, the inmate is taken to the death chamber where he’s strapped to the execution gurney.

Two IVs are started.

Once the warden receives a signal from a second prison official that no intervention is forthcoming from the governor, the inmate is asked if he has any last words.

Executioners then begin pushing a lethal mix of chemicals through the IVs until a heart monitor indicates that the inmate is dead.

* Contact Garren Shipley at gshipley@nvdaily.com

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