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Court orders new lawyers for death row inmate

New lawyers must be appointed for a Virginia death row inmate convicted in the bludgeoning and stabbing deaths of a Richmond couple and their two daughters, a federal appeals court ruled June 7.

A three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ordered new representation for Ricky Jovan Gray, who was convicted in the New Year’s Day 2006 slayings of Bryan and Kathryn Harvey and their daughters, 9-year-old Stella and 4-year-old Ruby.

A lower court appointed the same lawyers who represented Gray in his unsuccessful state appeals to represent him in his federal appeals. Those lawyers argued that Gray was entitled to new attorneys who could investigate whether their efforts at the state level were constitutionally deficient. The appeals court agreed.

“We find that a clear conflict of interest exists in requiring Gray’s counsel to identify and investigate potential errors that they themselves may have made in failing to uncover ineffectiveness of trial counsel while they represented Gray in his state post-conviction proceedings,” the court said. “Indeed, the Virginia State Bar Ethics Counsel advised Gray’s counsel that they are ethically barred from investigating their own ineffectiveness.”

The panel sent the case back to a federal judge for appointment of new counsel. It deferred a decision on the key issue in Gray’s federal appeal — whether he was improperly denied an evidentiary hearing on disputed issues during his state court appeals.

The Harveys were preparing to host friends for a holiday chili dinner when Gray and accomplice Ray Dandridge spotted their open front door and decided to rob the occupants. They tied the Harveys up in their basement, where they were stabbed and beaten to death.

Dandridge was sentenced to life in prison.

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