Originally published May 12, 2009, in the Metro section.
A federal appeals court yesterday ordered a judge to reexamine new evidence that a Prince William County man sentenced to death for recruiting a friend to assassinate his drug supplier might be innocent.
In sending the case of Justin Michael Wolfe back to a federal judge in Norfolk, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit said the judge had “prematurely” rejected evidence that Wolfe’s attorneys say proves his innocence in the murder-for-hire scheme. The court said the evidence — including the recantation of the prosecution’s key witness — “strongly suggests” a new hearing might be necessary and said the judge must fully explore it.
But the appellate court declined to order a new hearing and did not reach a conclusion about Wolfe’s case. The Centreville man, then 21, was convicted in 2002 of orchestrating the killing of Daniel Robert Petrole Jr., who was shot nine times as he parked his car in front of his Bristow townhouse. Prosecutors said yesterday that they are confident that Wolfe’s conviction will be upheld.