Inmate who claims innocence asks governor to spare his life

AP News
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Posted: Apr 07, 2017 5:59 PM
Inmate who claims innocence asks governor to spare his life

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Attorneys for a Virginia death-row inmate convicted of hiring a man to kill his ex-girlfriend filed a clemency petition on Friday urging Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe to spare his life because they believe he is innocent.

Ivan Teleguz is scheduled to be executed on April 25. The Ukrainian-born man was convicted in 2006 of ordering the killing of Stephanie Sipe, the mother of his child. Sipe was stabbed to death in her Harrisonburg apartment, and prosecutors said Teleguz, 38, wanted to get out of paying child support.

Teleguz maintains his innocence, and since he was put on death row, two key prosecution witnesses have recanted.

An attorney for Teleguz said in a statement that McAuliffe has an opportunity to show that Virginia "only applies the ultimate sanction when it is done fairly."

"In this case — where new evidence jurors never had a chance to consider shows that Mr. Teleguz's conviction and death sentence are based on false testimony — Gov. McAuliffe should protect the integrity of the ultimate sanction and grant clemency to ensure that Virginia does not execute an innocent man," Elizabeth Peiffer said.

A spokesman for McAuliffe didn't immediately respond to an email seeking comment on Friday.

After the two prosecution witnesses said they lied at the trial, an appeals court in 2012 ordered a judge to conduct a hearing on Teleguz's innocence claim.

But the judge said Teleguz failed to prove his innocence after one of the witnesses, Edwin Gilkes, refused to testify and another — who had been deported to Kyrgyzstan — didn't show up. A third witness, Michael Hetrick, said Teleguz agreed to pay him $2,000 to kill Snipe so Teleguz could get out of paying child support for their infant son.

Teleguz's attorneys note that Hetrick was told he could be retried for capital murder and Gilkes was told he could be charged with first-degree murder for breaking their plea agreement and testifying differently at trial.

Hetrick pleaded guilty to Sipe's murder and is serving a life sentence. Gilkes was sentenced to 15 years for his involvement.

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Follow Alanna Durkin Richer at http://twitter.com/aedurkinricher. Read more of her work at http://bigstory.ap.org/journalist/alanna-durkin-richer.