A Prince William County Circuit Court judge denied bail for former death row inmate Justin Wolfe, who will stand trial again this October for allegedly ordering the murder of his drug supplier, Daniel Petrole Jr., of Centreville, in 2001.
Wolfe’s and is scheduled to last for three weeks.
The Chantilly man’s previous conviction was due to what a federal judge described as prosecutorial misconduct—but special prosecutor Raymond Morrogh indicated to Judge Mary Grace O’Brien the state has enough evidence to convict.
Morrogh, the commonwealth’s attorney for Fairfax County, , after Prince William County Commonwealth’s Attorney Paul Ebert and Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Richard Conway recused themselves due to conflict of interest.
As Wolfe’s family sat in the courtroom with anxious faces and arms linked, Wolfe’s defense attorney Matthew Engle, from the Innocence Project, delivered a passionate argument for immediate release.
“Reinvestigation will take some time,” Engle said. “Mr. Wolfe has already served 11 years for a crime he didn’t commit.”
Engle said the packed courtroom was evidence Wolfe had strong community ties and would not run away before the trial. Before the hearing began, the bailiff had to turn away people because there were not enough seats. Engle said Wolfe’s stepfather, Ben Steinberg, owned a small business and would employ him to work from home.
“Mr. Wolfe is not interested in fleeing prosecution,” Engle said. “Mr. Wolfe is interested in clearing his name entirely.”
Morrogh argued bail was not appropriate for a capital murder case. He further argued Wolfe’s previous lifestyle—he allegedly sold hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of drugs—showed he was a flight risk.
“His testimony, the testimony of other witnesses, and the police reports—it seems to me that this defendant was absolutely involved in this murder. He planned it and caused it to occur. He did it out of greed,” Morrogh said. “Justin Wolfe is many things, but innocent is not one of them.”
The burden will be on Morrogh to prove that, as Wolfe's innocence is now presumed. Last July, U.S. District Judge Raymond Jackson reprimanded both Ebert and Conway for withholding crucial evidence from the defense. In August, a federal appeals court upheld Jackson’s decision to vacate Wolfe's convictions.
“Essentially, in an effort to ensure that no defense would be ‘fabricated,’ Ebert and Conway’s actions served to deprive Wolfe of any substantive defense in a case where his life would rest on the jury’s verdict,” .
Owen Merton Barber IV admitted to killing Petrole in 2001. His testimony against Wolfe was critical in the 2002 trial.
O’Brien, the Circuit Court judge, said her decision to hold Wolfe was not easy, given the circumstances.
“This is a very difficult case. It’s one I’ve give a great deal of thought to, because it’s an unusual one,” she said, before denying the motion to withhold bail.