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'VIRGINIA'S RUSH TO EXECUTE COULD KILL INNOCENT MAN'; 'DEAD MAN WALKING' AUTHOR PLEAS FOR PARDON

RICHMOND, Va., July 22 /PRNewswire/ -- Earle Palmer Brown issued the following:

Despite the strong reservations of three Supreme Court justices and other death penalty experts, Joseph O'Dell's death warrant will be signed if Virginia prevails in O'Dell's pending appeal in federal court. Post-trial DNA evidence indicates O'Dell is innocent -- but that has not swayed Virginia's court of appeals.

On Wednesday, July 24, at 1 p.m. in the Madison Room at the Commonwealth Park Suites Hotel (across from the Capitol), supporters of O'Dell will show never before seen evidence, uncover inconsistencies in his trial and plea for a pardon by Governor George Allen. Attending supporters include Sister Helen Prejean, author of "Dead Man Walking"; Steve Hawkins, Executive Director of the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty; Kirk Bloodsworth, the first death row inmate freed by DNA results; and members of O'Dell's investigative team.

In 1985, Joseph O'Dell was convicted and sentenced to die for the murder of Helen Schartner. Considerable evidence now exists to refute any connection of O'Dell to the crime. It is also clear that O'Dell was not competent to represent himself at trial. Moreover, Virginia wants to retroactively apply Congress's new "Effective Death Penalty Act" to O'Dell's case, potentially preventing an evidentiary hearing to explore all the mistakes which led to his death sentence.

In 1991, three Justices of the U.S. Supreme Court specifically called for a more thorough review of O'Dell's case stating that "there are serious questions as to whether O'Dell committed the crime or was capable of representing himself -- questions rendered all the more serious by the fact that O'Dell's life depends upon their answers." The State of Virginia claimed that only procedural rules should prevail and that "O'Dell's claims are barred from Federal Review by his failure to prefect a timely state habeas appeal." (O'Dell's lawyer mistakenly filed the wrong motion with the Virginia Supreme Court, interfering with his state and federal appeal).

In 1994, U.S. District Judge James Spencer ruled that the only blood sample still testable showed results different from the testimony given at trial. Judge Spencer held that DNA from the blood on O'Dell's shirt did not match the victim's blood and other blood samples used to link O'Dell to the killing were ruled inconclusive.

Leading death penalty experts such as Professor Michael Radelet, author of "In Spite of Innocence," and attorney Barry Scheck, well-known through the Simpson trial for his expertise on DNA evidence, have all expressed support for O'Dell's claim of innocence.

Congress' new restrictions on death penalty appeals, enacted April 24, 1996, may have raised the burden of proof so high that someone with a strong case of innocence, like O'Dell, may go unheeded. The federal District Court Judge found O'Dell's factual innocence had been demonstrated with fair probability after reviewing only the DNA evidence. However, under the more demanding "clear and convincing" standard, O'Dell would not get relief.

A decision from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit regarding O'Dell's fate and the applicability of Congress' Effective Death Penalty Act to this case is expected soon.
 -0- 7/22/96


/CONTACT: Jennifer Bofinger, 301-657-6153/

CO: ST: Virginia IN: SU:

KW-JA -- DCM002 -- 7786 07/22/96 08:59 EDT
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Publication:PR Newswire
Date:Jul 22, 1996
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