- Associated Press - Wednesday, November 25, 2015

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - A man who was sentenced to death in the New Year’s Eve 2006 slaying of a Richmond couple and their two young daughters lost his appeal before a federal appeals court Wednesday.

Ricky Jovan Gray claimed that his trial attorneys failed to meet constitutionally sufficient standards, first by failing to present evidence that might have cast doubts on his confession and second by not telling the jury during the sentencing phase that he was high on PCP at the time of the murders.

A three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously ruled that Gray raised the second claim too late. It split 2-1 in rejecting Gray’s claim that the Virginia Supreme Court improperly denied him an evidentiary hearing on the first ineffective assistance of counsel claim.

Gray’s attorney, Rob Lee, said the split decision “implicates the quality of review of death sentences in Virginia” and that he is considering asking for a rehearing before the full appeals court.

“By a one-vote margin, the panel found that this lack of quality in the court’s truth-finding function was concerning but not sufficient to reverse under strict restraints imposed on federal courts,” Lee said in a written statement.

Gray’s attorneys have two weeks to ask for a rehearing. The appeals court has no deadline for making a decision.

Michael Kelly, a spokesman for Attorney General Mike Herring, called Gray’s crimes “as cruel, heinous and coldblooded as can be imagined” and said the office will seek an execution date after the appeals court process is completed.

Gray, now 38, and accomplice Ray Dandridge killed Bryan and Kathryn Harvey and their daughters, 9-year-old Stella and 4-year-old Ruby, in a home invasion. The Harveys were a well-known family in Richmond. Bryan was an area musician and Kathryn was co-owner of the World of Mirth toy store.

According to evidence, the Harveys were preparing to host friends for a holiday chili dinner when Gray and Dandridge spotted their open front door and decided to rob the occupants. They tied the Harveys up in their basement, where they were stabbed and beaten to death before their house was set on fire.

Dandridge was sentenced to life in prison.

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