Judge To Weigh New Teleguz Evidence
Hearing Planned On Claims Of Recantations By Murder Case Accusers
Posted: December 13, 2012
HARRISONBURG — A federal judge says he will hear new evidence in the case against death-row inmate Ivan Teleguz.
The 34-year-old Teleguz was convicted and sentenced to death in Rockingham County Circuit Court in 2006 for the murder-for-hire killing of Stephanie Sipe at her Harrisonburg apartment five years earlier.
Teleguz’s defense team claims that witnesses used to help convict their client have since said they gave false testimony.
“This is not a case in which the new evidence of innocence is in the form of irrefutable scientific information or other facts susceptible of evaluation and resolution on the record alone,” U.S. District Court Judge James Jones wrote in his opinion, which he handed down Tuesday. “Live testimony, subject to cross-examination and questions from the court, is in my opinion necessary to determine the accuracy and reliability of the claim of actual innocence.”
Jones has not yet set a date for the hearing.
In August, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Jones did not thoroughly analyze new evidence in the case — claims that two prosecution witnesses, Aleksey Safanov and Edward L. Gilkes Jr., 34, now say they lied when testifying against Teleguz.
A year earlier, Jones had filed a roughly 100-page opinion in federal court in Roanoke explaining why he would not hear the case.
Safanov testified during Teleguz’s trial that the defendant had asked him to kill Sipe, and Gilkes said he had overheard Teleguz ask about hiring someone for the same purpose. The defense says that both witnesses have since recanted that testimony, although Gilkes pleaded guilty as an accessory before the fact to first-degree murder in the case. He is serving 15 years of a 50-year sentence.
Michael A. Hetrick, 38, of Warren, Pa., who admitted to killing Sipe for $2,500, pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder and is serving two consecutive life terms in prison.
Sipe’s mother found her dead on July 23, 2001, in her daughter’s Deer Run apartment just off Port Republic Road in Harrisonburg. Police say her throat had been cut.
Prosecutors say Teleguz, a Ukrainian national, orchestrated the murder-for-hire plot because he was angry over having to pay child support to Sipe.
If the judge doesn’t throw out the conviction, and the circuit court doesn’t reverse the decision, Teleguz’s execution date will be set. He could then ask the U.S. Supreme Court or Gov. Bob McDonnell to intervene.
Contact Pete DeLea at 573-6278 or firstname.lastname@example.org