Chantilly native Justin Wolfe, who sat on Death Row for more than a decade before having his conviction overturned by a federal appeals court in 2012, is still incarcerated, and is still fighting for his life.
A 1999 graduate of Chantilly High School, Wolfe was convicted in 2002 of ordering the 2001 killing of Daniel Robert Petrole Jr., a community college student and Centreville High School graduate.
The slaying exposed a massive drug ring that supplied a large segment of Northern Virginia with high-grade marijuana. Petrole supplied Wolfe and others with multiple pounds of marijuana on a regular basis, according to testimony at Wolfe’s 2002 trial. A Prince William County jury convicted Wolfe primarily on the words of another former Chantilly student, Owen Merton Barber IV.
In court, Barber admitted killing Petrole, but in December 2005 in a 13-page affidavit he recanted his claim that Wolfe ordered, or had any part whatsoever in the killing.
According to court documents and testimony, Barber gunned down Petrole after stalking him for more than an hour. As Petrole parked his car in front of his newly purchased townhouse in the Braemar community of Bristow in Prince William County, Barber walked up to the passenger side of Petrole’s car and fired his weapon into the victim. According to court records, police found nearly 50 pounds of marijuana, more than $130,000 in cash, a large quantity of Ecstasy pills, several weapons and body armor in Petrole’s house. They also found a list of people who owed Petrole money, including Wolfe.
Barber pleaded guilty and received a life sentence -- instead of the death penalty -- for testifying against Wolfe.
But in the 2005 affidavit, Barber recanted, stating: “Justin [Wolfe] had nothing to do with the killing of Daniel Petrole. There was no agreement between Justin and me to kill Danny Petrole. I did not have any discussion, at any time, with Justin about killing Danny Petrole. I lied and implicated Justin because I felt I had no choice.”
Barber further detailed in the affidavit alleged pressure put on him by Prince William County prosecutors to testify against Wolfe or face a possible death sentence.
On Aug. 16, 2012, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit ruled that Wolfe’s trial was tainted by the prosecution’s withholding of evidence, and ruled his conviction should be vacated. The same conclusion was previously reached by Judge Raymond A. Jackson of the U.S. District Court in Norfolk, who in 2011 vacated Wolfe’s murder conviction and death sentence on grounds he was denied constitutional rights.
Wolfe was released from death row on Sept. 7, 2012, but remains incarcerated in Prince William County.
“On death row I could at least see him through glass when I came to visit,” said his mother, Terri Steinberg. “In Manassas, I can only talk to him via an electronic television screen.”
In October, Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney Raymond F. Morrogh (D), who was appointed in the case as a special prosecutor, brought six new charges against Wolfe, including capital murder.
A Prince William County Grand Jury indicted Wolfe on the charges.
On Nov. 13, Prince William Circuit Court Judge Mary Grace O’Brien overruled double jeopardy arguments by Wolfe’s defense attorneys that he could not be tried a second time for the murder, meaning that Wolfe could yet again face the death penalty. “They are still determined to kill my son,” said Steinberg. “And it will be yet another holiday season without him home.”
O’Brien also told prosecutors that they could pursue new drug charges against Wolfe 12 years after the alleged crimes were committed, including one that holds a mandatory life sentence for being part of a “continuing criminal enterprise” that sold more than $100,000 worth of marijuana. She also told prosecutors that they did not have to provide evidence of Wolfe’s specific involvement in that enterprise.
“That law was not even enacted until July of 2000,” said Steinberg. “Justin turned himself in to authorities in May, 2001, so how could this “enterprise” even have sold that much marijuana in less than one year?”
Morrogh could not be reached for comment.
In court documents, Wolfe’s attorneys wrote that “Mr. Wolfe cannot mount a defense because counsel does not know what specific conduct is alleged, cannot properly investigate that conduct and cannot ensure constitutionally effective representation.”
Steinberg said she is beyond frustrated.
“I think that in going after Justin this hard, they really have forgotten what this case is about,” she said.
“They are not just punishing Justin and me. They are also dragging Danny Petrole’s family through this as well. This case has already gone on too long, wasted too much taxpayer money, and destroyed too many lives.”
Wolfe is currently scheduled for a hearing in Prince William County Circuit Court on Jan. 15.