Nearly five dozen former judges, prosecutors and other attorneys signed a letter this week criticizing the appointment of the Fairfax County Commonwealth's Attorney as special prosecutor in a decade-old capital murder case, and his decision to retry the defendant.
A Prince William County Circuit Court judge in September appointed Raymond Morrogh to prosecute the case during the retrial of Justin Wolfe, a Chantilly High School graduate, who was convicted over a decade ago for ordering the murder of his drug supplier, Daniel Petrole Jr., of Centreville. Wolfe's conviction was thrown out by a federal judge last year, and the vacation of his sentence was subsequently upheld by an appeals court. The courts also criticized Prince William County prosecutors for witholding evidence in the case.
The letter, which was dated Oct. 24, was addressed to Judge Mary Grace O'Brien and signed by 58 members of the legal community, including a former assistant commonwealth's attorney from Fairfax County. The signers said that Prince William County's top prosecutor, Paul Ebert, had an undue influence selecting Morrogh. Ebert was criticized by the courts for his work on the case and forced to recuse himself.
"As former judges, prosecutors, and other members of the legal community, we are deeply disturbed by the misconduct of prosecutors that led a jury to sentence Justin Wolfe to death," the letter reads. "We are equally troubled by the haste with which the newly appointed special prosecutor, Fairfax Commonwealth's Attorney Raymond Morrogh, has decided to re-try Mr. Wolfe."
In a September court appearance, Morrogh said that he believed Wolfe was "was absolutely involved in this murder. He planned it and caused it to occur." In the same hearing, O'Brien, the judge, said Morrogh probably would have been her selection even if Ebert had not suggested it, due to his past experience and geographic proximity.
The letter sharply criticized Morrogh's decision to retry Wolfe, and suggested that he was influenced by his connections with Ebert, who has endorsed his campaign for commonwealth's attorney.
"Unfortunately, less than 24 hours after his appointment, Mr. Morrogh announced his intention to retry Wolfe. This suggests a hurried decision in which the special prosecutor did not carefully examine the evidence to reach an independent conclusion about the case, but instead relied on the earlier deliberation of the Prince William County prosecutors—prosecutors who were responsible for the misconduct and errors in judgement that left Mr. Wolfe on death row for more than a decade," the letter reads.
Pre-trial motions in the Wolfe case continue next week.
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