Wolfe murder trial resumes

MANASSAS — The capital murder trial of Justin Michael Wolfe resumes at 9 a.m. today in Prince William Circuit Court, where the jury will hear closing arguments from prosecutors and Wolfe’s defense.

Jurors will then begin deliberations on whether Wolfe is guilty of capital murder and conspiracy to distribute more than 5 pounds of marijuana. He also is charged with using a firearm in commission of a felony, connected to the murder charge.

The trial, which began Jan. 7, is in its eighth day.

Wolfe, 20, is accused of hiring longtime friend Owen Merton Barber IV, who turned 22 on Monday, to kill Daniel Robert Petrole Jr., 21, outside Petrole’s new town house in the Bristow area.

Petrole supplied Wolfe with high-grade marijuana Wolfe then “fronted” to other drug dealers to make a profit before paying Petrole back. Prosecutors allege Wolfe had Petrole killed to avoid paying him $66,325 in debt, plus thousands more from a drug deal the evening of the March 15, 2001, murder.

Barber admitted following Petrole to his home and shooting him nine times. Barber testified during the trial that Wolfe paid him with drugs and $13,000 to do it.

Wolfe testified that although he has dealt marijuana for years with Barber, he had nothing to do with Petrole’s death.

If Wolfe is convicted, the jury would hear more evidence related to sentencing and deliberate over punishment. The sentence must ultimately be imposed by Judge Herman A. Whisenant Jr.

If convicted of the capital-murder charge, Wolfe could be sentenced to death or life in prison without parole. The drug conspiracy charge carries a maximum 30 years in prison.

Prince William prosecutors have not said how actively they would seek the death penalty if Wolfe is convicted of capital murder.

Commonwealth’s Attorney Paul B. Ebert said his argument would depend on the sentencing evidence.

“It’s very likely I would seek the death penalty, but I’ll have to reserve final judgment until I’ve heard all the evidence,” Ebert said Monday.

Meanwhile, federal investigators are examining the drug ring that involved Wolfe and Petrole and plan to bring charges in U.S. District Court in Alexandria against suspects.

Staff writer Patrick Wilson can be reached at (703) 368-7449.