Judge denies Wolfe new murder trial

Attorneys for the 21-year-old sentenced to death in January for a murder-for-hire conviction argued unsuccessfully for a retrial Wednesday in Prince William Circuit Court.

Justin Michael Wolfe, formerly of Centreville, received a capital murder conviction after jurors found him guilty of hiring a friend, Owen M. Barber, to kill his marijuana supplier, Daniel R. Petrole Jr., in March 2000.

He appeared in court with his attorneys who presented motions in front of Chief Judge Herman A. Whisenant Jr. requesting a new trial based on new discovery. He later took the stand to testify under oath that he no longer has funds available to him to keep his retained lawyer, and asked the judge if the court would appoint lawyers for the appeal process to the Virginia Supreme Court.

Attorney Marvin Miller argued that several testimonies heard by the jury in Wolfe’s trial should not have been heard. Miller stated witnesses were brought in to testify to their beliefs or opinions about what happened, and about robberies that were alleged to have been plotted by Wolfe but never actually took place.

“That evidence was not admissible and it gave the jury the wrong impression,” Miller said.

Miller argued that testimony should not have been allowed when one witness was brought in to testify to what he thought occurred on the night Barber shot Petrole.

“He gave an opinion as to what he thought had happened and he is not an expert,” Miller said. “So his testimony should not have been an issue; it should not have been introduced.”

Miller also stated that many of the witnesses who testified about their involvement with drugs would get immunity and under Virginia law would not be charged for that involvement.

“The jury was told that a lot of the witnesses were given immunity on the drugs,” said Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Rick A. Conway.

Conway said when many of the witnesses were first being questioned they were lying to police and the commonwealth because they did not want to get into trouble because of their involvement with the drugs. However, when they were told they would have immunity they began to talk, and that was told to the jury.

“All [testimony found objectionable] has been waived by the defense because they did not bring in a timely objection at the time the evidence was presented,” Conway said. “[The defense] is taking the position that ‘I will wait to see what the verdict is and if it doesn’t go my way I will bring up all these objections.’ That is what is happening here.”

Whisenant sided with the commonwealth and denied both motions made by the defense. He also agreed to have Wolfe take the stand in order to state that he was indeed indigent.

Wolfe testified that he was.

Whisenant then appointed Miller, who had volunteered to stay on the case, and Corinne Magee as co-counselor.

Wolfe’s case will now go on to the appeal phase to be heard by the Virginia Supreme Court. All Circuit Court trials where a death sentence is reached are automatically appealed to the state’s high court.

Staff writer Trina Goethals can be reached at (703) 368-3101, Ext. 121.

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