Court temporarily stays Virginia inmate's execution

AP News
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Posted: Apr 06, 2016 3:01 PM

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — A Virginia death row inmate convicted of hiring a man to kill his ex-girlfriend plans to take his case to the U.S. Supreme Court after his execution was halted by a federal appeals court.

The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has temporarily stayed Ivan Teleguz's execution, pending the high court's review of his petition. The 37-year-old Ukraine native was set to be executed on April 13.

Teleguz was sentenced to death in 2006 for hiring a man to kill his former girlfriend, Stephanie Sipe, in Harrisonburg. Since then, two key prosecution witnesses have recanted, which Teleguz's attorneys say raises serious questions about his guilt.

"We think that this is a troubling case when people look at the facts," said attorney Michael Williams, who said there is no physical evidence tying Teleguz to the crime. Williams said he looks forward to bringing Teleguz's case to the high court, but said it's difficult to say what the justices might do.

After the two prosecution witnesses said they lied at the trial, the appeals court in 2012 ordered a judge to conduct a hearing on Teleguz's innocence claim. But during that hearing, one of the witnesses refused to testify and another didn't show up. A third witness said Teleguz agreed to pay him $2,000 to kill Snipe so Teleguz could get out of paying child support for their infant son.

U.S. District Judge James P. Jones refused to overturn Teleguz's conviction, saying he failed to prove his innocence claim. A three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said in November that it had no reason to overrule Jones' decision.

It was unclear whether the state was going to be able to execute Teleguz. Prison officials have said they don't have enough drugs to carry out executions lethal injection executions. A spokeswoman for the Department of Corrections didn't immediately respond to messages Wednesday.

Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe is currently weighing a bill that would allow the state to force condemned inmates to die in the electric chair if it can't find execution drugs. McAuliffe's office has refused to say what action he will take on the bill.

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Follow Alanna Durkin Richer on Twitter at twitter.com/aedurkinricher. Her work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/journalist/alanna-durkin-richer