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Location: Strasburg, Virginia

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Convicted murderer Bell reaching end of possible last appeal; B1

By Garren Shipley
(Daily Staff Writer)

If Edward Bell wants taxpayers to pick up the tab to prove his lawyers were ineffective at his sentencing in 2001, he’ll have to show his argument to the commonwealth.

Bell was convicted in 2001 of the October 1999 murder of Winchester police Sgt. Ricky Timbrook, and is reaching the end of what is likely his last substantive appeal — and last chance to avoid the death chamber.

A federal court in Abingdon is considering Bell’s petition for habeas corpus, a final review of the legality of his trial and death sentence.

U.S. District Chief Judge James P. Jones has already turned away arguments that Bell is retarded and ineligible for the death penalty, or was due a new trial because he was not told immediately that he had the right to help from the Jamaican embassy.

Bell, a resident alien, had also argued that his lawyers were ineffective at trial and during his sentencing.
Jones threw out all but the last argument, and has scheduled an evidentiary hearing for July on the matter.

If successful in July, Bell will get a new sentencing with a new legal team. If he fails, his only hope for life lies in a relatively rare intervention by the Fourth Circuit Court of Ap-peals or U.S. Supreme Court.

Gov. Timothy M. Kaine could also grant clemency. Timbrook’s widow, Kelly Timbrook, ap-peared in Republican campaign commercials during the run-up to the November election, in which she said she didn’t trust Kaine to uphold Bell’s sentence.

To prepare for the hearing, Bell lawyers Matthew Roskoski and Jay Connell asked Jones to let them make their case for outside investigative help ex parte, or without letting the other side see his argument.

Such one-sided arguments are uncommon. Federal court rules require in almost all cases for both sides to see everything that is presented to a judge in almost every type of proceeding.

But they are warranted in this case, according to Bell’s lawyers, because of past harassment of potential witnesses by police and interference from prosecutors.

Senior Assistant Attorney General Katherine Baldwin called that argument “slanderous” in the state’s response to the motion, and dismissed them as just another tactic to keep Bell alive.

U.S. District Chief Judge James P. Jones turned away Bell’s request with a short, two-page opinion filed on Sunday.
Jones simply pointed to his ruling in 2005 on an earlier request Bell’s team made for an ex parte presentation.

At that time, Bell had hoped to get taxpayers to pick up the tab for an outside investigator and other experts to provide evidence that the convict was mentally retarded.

Jones turned away both the application for ex parte assistance and later found that, under Virginia’s definition, Bell wasn’t mentally incompetent and was eligible for the death penalty.

“For the reasons stated by the state in its opposition to this motion, and for the reasons stated by the court in denying an earlier similar request by the petitioner … I find that the petitioner has not made a sufficient showing to justify an ex parte application,” Jones wrote Sunday.