[Deathpenalty]death penalty news----VIRGINIA
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Mon Jul 11 19:05:04 CDT 2005
VIRGINIA----stay of impending execution
Execution stayed for Virginia death row inmate
The U.S. Supreme Court granted a last-minute stay of execution Monday for
a man convicted of fatally stabbing the manager of a pool hall with a pair
Robin Lovitt, 41, had been scheduled for execution at 9 p.m. Monday.
The stay will remain in place until the court returns in October from a
three-month break. Justices will announce then whether they will hear
Lovitt's appeal or allow Virginia to execute him.
Attorneys for Lovitt had sought a last-minute appeal from the high court
and requested clemency from Gov. Mark R. Warner. Among those fighting the
execution are former independent counsel Kenneth Starr, who argued the
case before the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in February.
Lovitt's case attracted national attention because the murder weapon and
DNA evidence were destroyed after the trial.
"We're just glad that reason has come to light," said Jack Payden-Travers,
executive director of Virginians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty.
"Had the execution gone ahead it (would have been) a miscarriage of
Lovitt was convicted in 1999 in the slaying of Clayton Dicks, 44, during a
pool hall robbery in Arlington.
Lovitt's lawyers and opponents of capital punishment have argued that the
conviction should be reviewed because of the questions surrounding the
Initial DNA tests of the bloody scissors could not conclusively link
Lovitt to the 1998 slaying. A court clerk later destroyed most of the
evidence, including the scissors, making additional DNA testing
The Virginia attorney general's office has maintained that DNA evidence
was not critical to the conviction because of "very compelling, strong
evidence," including eyewitness testimony.
"He was found guilty by 12 jurors, 2 trial judges, seven state justices,
one federal district judge and 3 federal appellate judges," said Emily
Lucier, spokeswoman for the state attorney general's office.
Following the Supreme Court's action Monday, Lucier said the state would
comply with the court's order. She declined to comment further. The
governor's office and Starr also declined comment.
Lovitt has steadfastly maintained his innocence and had remained hopeful
about his ability to win a last-minute reprieve, his lawyers said. In a
statement, Lovitt's attorneys said they were pleased with the high court's
action and hope the court will eventually reverse the 4th Circuit's ruling
The Supreme Court of Virginia in 2000 found no error by the trial court
and affirmed Lovitt's conviction and death sentence. The following year,
the U.S. Supreme Court refused to consider Lovitt's appeal.
The scissors were among items discarded in 2001 to free up space in the
Arlington County Circuit Court's evidence room. In 2003, the Virginia
Supreme Court rejected Lovitt's claim that his due process rights were
violated. The justices ruled a court employee did not act in bad faith
when he ordered the evidence destroyed.
In May, more concerns were raised after an independent audit found the
state crime lab erred in critical testing in the case of another death row
inmate, who was pardoned.
The audit prompted the governor to call for a scientific review of more
than 160 cases handled by the lab. The review team last month concluded
the lab properly handled the DNA evidence in Lovitt's case.
Lovitt would have been the 1st inmate executed in Virginia in 2005.
All 9 justices participated in Monday's order, including Chief Justice
William H. Rehnquist, who has thyroid cancer, and Justice Sandra Day
O'Connor, who announced this month that she is retiring.
(source: Daily Press)
More information about the DeathPenalty