Pressure is building on Governor Terry McAuliffe to grant clemency in the case of a former Harrisonburg man who could be executed later this month. New evidence suggests prosecutors and police used questionable tactics to convict him, and witnesses who pointed a finger at him are now admitting they lied. Sandy Hausman has more on that story.
When a young Harrisonburg mother was brutally murdered more than a decade ago, police were anxious to find the killer, and DNA from the crime scene led to Michael Hetrick – a man who said he didn’t even know Stephanie Sipe and had no motive to kill her. Detectives thought the woman’s former boyfriend and the father of her child hired Hetrick, and they urged him to confirm that theory:
“The police just fed him every detail of their case. They even gave him this document that laid out their entire theory of the case, and said, 'We want you to read this so you can understand the facts of the case."
Elizabeth Peiffer – staff attorney at the Virginia Capital Representation Resource Center – says officers then called the Commonwealth’s attorney, who said she would ask for the death penalty unless Hetrick could confirm that Ivan Teleguz was behind the killing.
“That if he didn’t give them Ivan – if he didn’t repeat this story back to them, his own life would be in jeopardy – that they would seek the death penalty, and he would get it,” she explains.
Hetrick then said he was hired by Teleguz, and two other men testified that’s what happened. One of them – an immigrant from Kyrgystan – was promised help in getting a visa from the federal government to save him from deportation. The other was told he might face the death penalty if he didn’t implicate Teleguz.
In court, attorney Peiffer says, the prosecutor claimed Teleguz had also committed a murder in Pennsylvania.
“They told jurors that this is how he solves his problems. He has people commit murder for him, and jurors were really scared," she says. "They sent out a question to the judge during deliberations asking if he had their addresses, and the judge had them instructed that he did have this information, and jurors were so scared that they very quickly sentenced him to death.”
But it turned out the Pennsylvania murder they described never happened, and the two men who originally linked Teleguz to the crime in Virginia have since said they lied. Now the Virginia Capital Representation Resource Center and the law firm Kirkland and Ellis are asking the governor to pardon Teleguz or at least commute his sentence so he won’t be executed.
“We have asked that he grant a full pardon, because we believe the current state of the evidence, with two of the key prosecution witnesses recanting their testimony that no juror could have found him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt."
And, Peiffer says, public support for Teleguz, who – along with his family -- left the Soviet-controlled Ukraine as a child to avoid religious persecution, is growing.
“Not only do we have over 113,000 people signing his online petition. We have thousands of pages of letters that we’ve submitted to the governor, and we also have some really prominent people speaking out on Ivan’s behalf.
The Virginia Council of Churches and Religious Leaders had a presentation in front of the governor’s office and presented a letter to the governor asking, particularly during this time of holy week, that the governor consider the problems of execution of an innocent man in Virginia, and then there was a letter that came out from conservative and libertarian leaders – 25 of them, and we’ve had a lot of political people come out as well.”
Among them Delegates Simon and Hope from Northern Virginia. Peiffer says she hopes the public will weigh-in between now and the scheduled execution date – April 25th – by calling the governor and joining the chorus for clemency.