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‘Actual innocence’ claim remanded in murder-for-hire case

A man convicted of murder-for-hire will get another chance to show his innocence, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said last week.

An appellate panel ordered the Roanoke U.S. District Court to take another look at the gateway test for gaining an evidentiary hearing under the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1995 decision in Schlup v. Delo. The Schlup “gateway innocence” test allows a post-conviction court to consider procedurally defaulted claims when new and reliable evidence shows a defendant is actually innocent.

In 2006, a jury convicted Teleguz of capital murder for hire after his former girlfriend, Stephanie Sipe, was found dead in the apartment she shared with Teleguz’s infant son. DNA evidence linked Michael Hetrick to the murder, but Hetrick testified Teleguz had hired him to commit the crime. Two other witnesses testified about their personal knowledge of the murder plot, but later recanted that testimony.

U.S. District Judge James Jones said there was “no fundamental miscarriage of justice” to excuse Teleguz’s default and dismissed his habeas petition.

In its Aug. 2 published opinion in Teleguz v. Pearson, the 4th Circuit said Jones may have failed to apply the correct standard, and his “conclusory explanations” did not provide sufficient analysis for proper appellate review.
–Deborah Elkins

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