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Federal court hears Virginia death row inmate’s appeal

(AP) A Virginia death row inmate should get an opportunity to show that his trial lawyers failed to present evidence that he was high on PCP when he murdered a Richmond couple and their two young daughters, the prisoner’s lawyers told a federal appeals court Tuesday.

Ricky Javon Gray, 38, was convicted in the New Year’s Day 2006 bludgeoning and stabbing deaths of Bryan and Kathryn Harvey and their daughters, 9-year-old Stella and 4-year-old Ruby. The Harveys were preparing to host friends for a holiday chili dinner when Gray and Ray Dandridge, looking for a house to rob, noticed their front door open. They tied the family up their basement, stabbed and beat them to death, then set the house on fire.

Dandridge was sentenced to life in prison.

Gray’s new attorneys urged a three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to overturn a lower court’s decision dismissing their claim that his previous lawyers’ failure to raise the intoxication issue amounted to unconstitutionally deficient legal representation.

“He was using PCP that day,” attorney Elizabeth Hambourger said.

Pressed by Judge James A. Wynn for specifics about how much of the drug Gray ingested, Hambourger said her client called it “a huge amount.”

Judge Albert Diaz suggested that the intoxication claim was raised at trial, but Hambourger said it was barely mentioned when an expert witness testified about the correlation between substance abuse and crime.

“That’s extremely weak mitigation,” she said.

Gray’s lawyers want to introduce into evidence Richmond jail records showing that Gray was diagnosed with schizophrenia because of his behavior after arrest, but the symptoms disappeared when the PCP wore off in a couple of weeks, Hambourger said.

But Matthew P. Dullaghan, a senior assistant attorney general, said those records show a misdiagnosis — nothing more.

He also argued that the way defense lawyers addressed the drug issue was a calculated and reasonable trial strategy.

The appeals court typically rules several weeks after hearing arguments.

— LARRY O’DELL, Associated Press

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