Va. man denied bond in murder-for-hire retrial

MANASSAS, Va. (WUSA9) -- A man who spent more than a decade on death row and 13 years behind bars for a crime he may not have committed will spend more time behind bars.

"It's a nightmare," said Justin Wolfe's mother, Terri Steinberg. Her family was hoping to bring Wolfe home, but Judge Mary Grace Obrien denied him bond.

Wolfe is being retried in the murder of Danny Robert Petrole, Jr., who was shot outside of his Bristow, Va. townhouse in 2001.

In 2002, a Prince William County jury convicted Wolfe, a 1999 graduate of Chantilly High School, of capital murder for ordering the killing of Petrole, a community college student and Centreville High School graduate.

The murder exposed a massive drug operation that supplied high-grade marijuana to Northern Virginia. Wolfe testified in his 2002 trial that Petrole supplied him and others with multiple pounds of marijuana to sell. The jury convicted Wolfe primarily on the testimony of the trigger man, another former Chantilly student--Owen Merton Barber IV--who said Wolfe ordered the killing.

Barber had made a deal with prosecutors, which was not revealed to the jury. He pleaded guilty and received a life sentence instead of the death penalty for testifying against Wolfe.

But, in a 2005, 13-page affidavit, Barber recanted his claim that Wolfe ordered the killing or had any part of it. He said he lied because he felt he had no choice.

In 2012, a federal court vacated Wolfe's convictions and sentences. A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit upheld the decision and findings of Judge Raymond Jackson of the U.S. District Court in Norfolk, Va. that Wolfe's trial was tainted by the prosecution's withholding of evidence and that he was denied constitutional rights.

Wolfe was released from death row but remains behind bars in Prince William County since a grand jury indicted him on six new charges, including capital murder. Fairfax County Commonwealth's Attorney Raymond F. Morrogh, who was appointed in the case as a special prosecutor, says the evidence is there to prove Wolfe is guilty of murder for hire and being part of a "continuing criminal enterprise" that sold more than $100,000 worth of marijuana. The kingpin nature of the crime, or CCE, is the key to a death penalty consideration.

Steinberg and her family were disappointed today but say they remain hopeful that a jury will not convict Justin Wolfe a second time because the star witness is gone. Also, they point out that many others who had higher roles in the drug operation served much shorter sentences.

"I will always have hope. They can't take that away from me," said Steinberg.

A new trial date has not yet been set yet.


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