Prince William County Commonwealth’s Attorney Paul Ebert and an assistant came in for scathing criticism Tuesday as a Norfolk federal judge overturned the death sentence of a man convicted in a 2002 drug-related killing.
U.S. District Judge Raymond A. Jackson accused Ebert and assistant Richard Conway of “stifling” a search for truth by supporting the use of false testimony and withholding evidence in the case of Justin Wolfe.
Jackson pointedly criticized Ebert’s policy of not providing open access to his files for defense counsel. “Essentially, in an effort to ensure that no defense would be ‘fabricated,’ Ebert and Conway’s actions served to deprive Wolfe of any substantive defense in a case where his life would rest on the jury’s verdict,” Jackson wrote.
Jackson found such actions not only unconstitutional, but “abhorrent to the judicial process.”
Granting a habeas writ, Jackson remanded the case to the Supreme Court of Virginia for further proceedings.
Ebert told The Washington Post he was stung by the criticism. “It offends me to have anyone say that about me or my office,” he said.
Ebert is Virginia’s longest serving Commonwealth’s Attorney and has more death penalty convictions than any other Virginia prosecutor.
Washington lawyer Alan Dial, one of Wolfe’s lawyers in the habeas case, applauded what he called Jackson’s “thorough and thoughtful review.”
“We are hopeful the commonwealth will accept the court’s decision and move on,” Dial said.
By Peter Vieth