A new box of evidence recently popped up in a murder case prosecuted more than a dozen years ago in Prince William County.
The evidence was supposed to be turned over to attorneys for Justin Michael Wolfe – convicted in the 2002 of the murder of Daniel Robert Petrole Jr. in Bristow – at least two years ago. Defense attorneys argued Wednesday in Prince William Circuit Court that it contains evidence helpful to Wolfe’s defense and should have been turned over before the 2002 trial.
But it wasn’t until July 2013, years after federal judges vacated Wolfe’s conviction and ridiculed prosecutors for failing to disclose exculpatory evidence in the case, and as prosecutors prepare to re-try Wolfe.
Wolfe, of Chantilly, had been convicted of ordering the murder of Petrole, who grew up in Centreville, as well as distributing drugs. Those convictions were vacated in federal court in a scathing rebuke of the prosecution’s conduct in the case. The judge called the conduct “unconstitutional” and “abhorrent” to the justice system.
Confident that he’s got the right man – despite the triggerman affirming in federal court that Wolfe was not involved – Prince William Commonwealth’s Attorney Paul Ebert filed new capital murder charges against Wolfe before handing the case over to special prosecutors. Prosecutors also have filed drug charges that carry up to a life sentence, an apparent backstop in case the murder charges don’t carry.
On Wednesday, Judge Mary Grace O’Brien, a former Prince William prosecutor, denied a defense request for prosecutors to investigate the chain-of-custody of “the box,” which contains about 2,700 documents that recently surfaced.
“I’m certainly not suggesting any bad intentions on the part of the special prosecutors,” said Kimberly Irving, one of Wolfe’s attorneys, “but somebody had that box. Twenty-seven hundred pages of discovery is not a small amount.”
Irving acknowledged that among the documents were duplicates of previously received items; however, she said the team was still sorting through the information and that “there are some items in that box that are highly exculpatory.”
She did not explain how the documents were exculpatory, and co-defense counsel Ed MacMahon declined share that information after the hearing.
Casey Lingan – a Fairfax County prosecutor handling the case with Fairfax Commonwealth’s Attorney Raymond Morrogh – said he’s not sure where the box came from, but pointed out that the defense now has it. Lingan said prosecutors were “not withholding information by any stretch of the imagination.”
“It’s an ongoing process. I think the Commonwealth has shown good faith,” he said, expressing concerns about “animosity” coming from the defense.
O’Brien also denied a defense request that prosecutors provide a better copy of surveillance tape that could prove or disprove whether one witness was actually present in the car with the triggerman as the murder occurred.
The next hearing is set for Oct. 2. No trial date has been set.