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Appellate arguments for Bell's life proved fruitless

Cop killer's execution still set for Thursday

By Garren Shipley -- Daily Staff Writer

Calling an additional two or three witnesses to the stand probably wouldn't have caused a jury to acquit Edward N. Bell of murder in 2001, according to his appellate team. But it could well have saved his life.

That's the argument that James Connell and other members of Bell's appellate team have been making for years, but thus far to no avail.

Barring intervention by Gov. Timothy M. Kaine, Bell will be put to death on Thursday at 9 p.m. for the 1999 murder of Winchester police Sgt. Ricky L. Timbrook.

Connell drew on a sports analogy to make his point.

"You pay a lot of money to go see a football game, and one of the teams doesn't field an offense. You come away from that saying that was a waste of my money, and that was hardly very fair," he said.

Bell's trial team didn't even bother to take the field during the sentencing phase of the trial, Connell said -- and in so doing sent their client to the death chamber.

"That's why we as Virginians care about whether people get a fair representation or not," he said. "That's what makes the system fair -- when both sides get out there and do their best, and then the best side wins."

Bell's case requires no deep introspection, according to Tucker Martin, a spokesman for Virginia Attorney General Bob McDonnell.

"Every court has found that Edward Bell is guilty of murder and deserving of the death penalty sentence that was imposed by the jury," Martin said. "Our thoughts and prayers are with the family and friends of Officer Timbrook."

Connell disagreed. Defense lawyers have to know their client well, something that didn't happen with Bell's merry-go-round of attorneys.

Lawyers should know everything about their clients when lives are on the line, "the good and the bad," Connell said.

"When a juror is called upon to make a decision of life or death, that's what they want to know. 'Who is this person that I'm called upon to pass judgment on?'" he said.

During the appellate process, Bell's initial trial team -- Jud A. Fischel and Mark B. Williams -- defended their decision to put on very little in the way of mitigation as a legal strategy.

Begging for mercy after pleading innocence simply wouldn't work with the jury, the two argued in a 2006 hearing.

U.S. District Court Judge James P. Jones was unconvinced, and unloaded on them from the bench, finding that their performance was so poor as to be constitutionally deficient.

But it wouldn't have made a difference, Jones continued.

"In the case of a police officer who was dearly loved in the jurisdiction, that probably wouldn't have made a difference," Connell said.

That was the moment that the case -- and possibly Bell's life -- was lost, Connell said.

"At the time we didn't know it," he said. "We were disappointed in the outcome, because we disagreed."

But Jones' extraordinary statement about trial counsel's performance was a solid building block for future appeals.

Kaine's office could announce a decision on clemency for Bell at any time.

Two days before his scheduled execution, Bell is not resigned to his likely fate, Connell said.

"He's focused on the positive," he said. "He's still hopeful."

Contact Garren Shipley at gshipley@nvdaily.com

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