MANASSAS, Va. (WUSA) -- Justin Wolfe's release from prison has been stopped after the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond granted the Commonwealth's request on Thursday afternoon.
Wolfe now remains in the Prince William County jail and won't be released anytime soon, even though his murder-for-hire conviction and death sentence were thrown out.
On Wednesday, Prince William County Circuit Court Judge Mary Grace O'Brien abided by a federal judge's order to release Justin Wolfe, the defendant in a 2002 capital murder and drug case.
Wolfe was on death row in solitary confinement for 11 years. He was convicted of murder-for-hire in the killing of Daniel Petrole, who was Wolfe's marijuana supplier. Both were pot dealers.
In 2005, Owen Barber, the triggerman and prosecution's star witness, recanted his testimony and told a federal court that Wolfe had nothing to do with the murder. Barber said he lied on the stand to avoid the death penalty.
Twice, Federal Judge Raymond Jackson has ordered the charges against Wolfe tossed out because alleged misconduct by Prince William County Commonwealth's Attorney Paul Ebert. Ebert denies the allegations. He recused himself in what was to be a re-trial and Fairfax County Commonwealth's Attorney Ray Morrogh was appointed special prosecutor.
Jackson's last order came on Christmas Eve, 2012, when he ordered Wolfe's release by Jan. 3, 2013 "unconditionally, free of all criminal proceedings on the charge of murder for hire of Danny Petrole and the drug charges that were previously tried in state court."
At Wednesday's hearing in Prince William County, Morrogh argued unsuccessfully to keep Wolfe held behind bars. He accused the Innocence Project of coaching witnesses and said the federal court made a mistake. "As someone who has read through every scrap of paper int he case, they've got it wrong."
Just before noon, Circuit Judge O'Brien agreed to abide by Jackson's order to release Wolfe by Thursday at 5 p.m. unless an appellate court intervened.
Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli had requested that the federal appeals court in Richmond stop Wolfe's release, which it now has.
In Jackson's ruling on December 24th, he said Wolfe's case is irrevocably tainted by prosecutors' misconduct. He accused prosecutors of coercing false testimony from Barber and of withholding evidence that would have helped Wolfe. In that case, the defense did not receive the recording of the conversation between detectives and Barber which discussed his testimony that would implicate Wolfe and keep Barber from receiving a death sentence.
Judge Jackson said Commonwealth's Attorney Paul Ebert and Detective Sam Newsome erred again when they made a jailhouse visit to Owen Barber on September 11, 2012, and made threats against him if he wavered from his original testimony.
Written by Peggy Fox