By Garren Shipley and Alex Bridges -- Daily Staff Writers
WINCHESTER -- After nearly a decade of struggle, it's over.
Edward N. Bell was put to death on Thursday night for the murder of Winchester police Sgt. Ricky L. Timbrook.
But for some, the execution isn't the end, but just another chapter in a very long and very sad story.
Bell went to his grave protesting his innocence, telling the family of Timbrook that "you definitely have the wrong guy" just moments before the flow of lethal chemicals started.
Death penalty opponents deluged the office of Democratic Gov. Timothy M. Kaine with e-mails, letters and phone calls, asking the governor to spare Bell's life based what they argue is evidence that someone else shot Timbrook.
Some allege that a fellow police officer mistakenly killed Timbrook and pinned the blame on Bell, who was in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Others argued in e-mails sent to Kaine and reporters that some sort of prosecutorial misconduct was involved.
Winchester Sheriff Leonard "Lenny" Millholland isn't swayed.
"All those conspiracies, that's [expletive], and you can quote me on that," he said speaking just before the execution on Thursday.
Millholland was part of the team that investigated the murder, and he said he had seen more than enough to convince him of Bell's guilt.
Perhaps the most damning of all the evidence against Bell was the discovery of .38-caliber ammunition in his home of the same unusual type that was used to kill Timbrook, according to Millholland.
Certainty is what lets him sleep at night. Even with all the anger he felt toward Bell for the murder, the significance of the execution is still powerful enough to give him pause, he said.
"If I had any doubts, I couldn't live with myself," he said.
Encouraging doubt was a big part of James Connell's job.
Connell, the public face of Bell's appellate legal team, worked for years to get Bell a new sentencing hearing or even a new trial.
Fighting for Bell by raising doubts about his guilt was an article of faith for the attorney.
Working with death row inmates, particularly one with a case as charged as Bell's is not about making friends.
For some, it's about the adversarial system, Connell said. Everyone, no matter how unpopular or how heinous the crime they are charged with, deserves a competent advocate in court.
"I don't wear my faith on my sleeve," he said. But there's a passage in the Gospel of Matthew that speaks to why he took Bell's case.
"I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me," he said, speaking in an interview before the execution.
"Ed Bell is the least of these," he said.
Timbrook's death will stay with Lt. Allen "Big Al" Sibert, of the Frederick County Sheriff's Office and the Northwestern Regional Drug Task force, for years.
Sibert attended the Central Shenandoah Criminal Justice Training Academy near Waynesboro in 1991. Timbrook was one of his classmates for 12 weeks.
"Ricky was just one of those guys that everybody else wants to be like," Sibert said. "He was a great person and a great cop. He was a lot of fun. He definitely wasn't the jokester in the academy but he was definitely somebody people liked to talk to. Just one of those guys instantly liked the minute you met.
"He was just a heck of a likable guy and he was definitely a standout at the academy as far as performance, both physically and academically. Just a great guy all the way around."
Sibert and Timbrook took law enforcement jobs with the Warren County Sheriff's Office and the Winchester Police Department, respectively. Sibert then joined the regional drug task and Timbrook was put in charge of the special enforcement team for the city agency.
"He would call me from time to time to do undercover [drug] purchases in areas that he was targeting in the city ... so we still got to work together," Sibert recalled, adding the two went through more training and became driving instructors. "Even though we were with different departments, we were able to keep up a good working relationship, see each other somewhat here and there and actually collaborate on some stuff."
Sibert began working for the Frederick County Sheriff's Office after Timbrook's death.
"It would have been great when I came over here for him to still be working here," Sibert said. "We would've gotten to work together a lot more. That would have been great, but Bell took that from us."
Sibert recalled a "feeling of general disbelief" upon hearing Timbrook had been fatally shot.
He initially signed up to see the execution, but gave up his seat so a colleague who works with the Winchester Police Department and one of the first on the scene of Timbrook's shooting could attend.
But Sibert doesn't see Bell's execution as closure and still carries the pamphlet from Timbrook's funeral with him in his car.
"You can't never close that book. It'll always be that lingering thought every time you drive by that area or any time you hear Ricky's name," he said.