- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 1, 2006

RICHMOND (AP) — Taxpayers will pick up more than $500,000 in legal fees to defend against a suit filed by a death-row inmate who came within nine days of execution for a slaying he did not commit.

On May 5, a federal jury in Charlottesville awarded Earl Washington Jr. $2.25 million after concluding that a former state police special agent fabricated evidence that led to Mr. Washington’s death sentence.

The special agent, Curtis Reese Wilmore, died in 1994. Legal fees totaling $532,888 have been paid to the McGuireWoods law firm to represent Mr. Wilmore’s estate, according to the office of Gov. Timothy M. Kaine, a Democrat.

The amount does not include the cost of the two-week trial that resulted in the jury award, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported Wednesday.

Mr. Washington’s legal costs are likely to rise because Mr. Wilmore’s estate is seeking a new trial, and the state could also wind up paying Mr. Washington’s attorneys.

Mr. Washington, who is mildly retarded, confessed to the 1982 slaying of Rebecca Lynn Williams in Culpeper, Va. He was sentenced to death on the basis of the confession and spent nearly 18 years in prison.

After DNA testing in 1993 cast doubt on Mr. Washington’s guilt, Gov. L. Douglas Wilder, a Democrat, commuted his sentence to life in prison.

In 2000, more-sophisticated DNA testing linked a convicted rapist to the crime and prompted Gov. James S. Gilmore III, a Republican, to pardon Mr. Washington, who now is a maintenance worker in Virginia Beach.

A spokesman for the Virginia Attorney General’s Office said it could not represent Mr. Wilmore because one of its lawyers was a witness in the case. The office also had to represent the state police and other state agencies subpoenaed for records by Mr. Washington.

State insurance may also have to pay the legal fees of more than a half-dozen of Mr. Washington’s attorneys.

Peter Neufeld, co-founder of the Innocence Project and one of Mr. Washington’s attorneys, said that under federal law, lawyers winning such a civil rights claim are entitled to fees. Mr. Neufeld did not say how much his team was owed and said it does not plan to file for a specific amount until two weeks after the judgment is final.

Such fees, he argues, should not come out of the amount awarded to Mr. Washington.

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