NORFOLK, Va. (AP) — A federal judge is barring Virginia prosecutors from retrying an alleged drug dealer whose original murder-for-hire conviction was overturned.
U.S. District Judge Raymond Jackson in Norfolk on Wednesday said prosecutors failed to retry Justin Wolfe within the required time period. He ordered Wolfe freed within 10 days.
Wolfe was convicted in 2002 and sent to death row. But last year, Judge Jackson overturned the conviction, ruling that Prince William County prosecutors hid evidence that would have undermined their case. The triggerman in the case -- Owen Barber IV -- also later recanted his testimony implicating Wolfe at a hearing held in front of Judge Jackson.
Both men were charged in the 2001 killing of a large-scale marijuana supplier, Daniel Petrole. It exposed the workings of a drug ring in affluent Northern Virginia suburbs.
Judge Jackson last year ordered that Wolfe be retried within 120 days or unconditionally released from prison. At a hearing earlier this month, Wolfe's attorneys said that time has run out.
A state attorney, however, had argued that prosecutors were in compliance because the clock didn't start until September after the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals issued its mandate sending the case back to state court.
Wolfe's retrial was scheduled to begin Jan. 2 at the request of special prosecutor Raymond F. Morrogh, who sought additional time to put his case together. That date has been continued and a hearing was set for Jan. 16, prior to the latest ruling.
"We are pleased and we hope the court unconditionally releases him as Judge Jackson ordered," said Kimberly Irving, one of Wolfe's attorneys. "We believe it's time for him to go home."
Judge Jackson's Wednesday ruling also barred state prosecutors from reprosecuting Wolfe on the original charges in state court or any other charges stemming from Petrole's death, which would require Barber's testimony.
A spokesman for the Virginia attorney general's office did not immediately return a message seeking comment. Telephone calls to Mr. Morrogh's office and Prince William Commonwealth's Attorney Paul B. Ebert's office on Wednesday evening went unanswered.