AP – Court motion details jailhouse conversation between prosecutors, witness in capital case

  • By MATTHEW BARAKAT  Associated Press
  • November 30, 2012 – 5:35 pm EST

MANASSAS, Virginia — A key witness who recanted his testimony in a death-penalty case was told by prosecutors that he could face the same punishment himself if he does not go back to his original story, according to defense lawyers.

The allegation about witness Owen Barber is contained in a motion that seeks to dismiss the capital retrial of Justin Wolfe, whose original conviction and death sentence were overturned after a decade on death row on accusations of prosecutorial misconduct.

The motion contains details of a jailhouse discussion in September between prosecutors and Barber, their one-time star witness who avoided the death penalty by testifying against Wolfe in 2001. Initially, Barber, the triggerman in the shooting of rival drug dealer Daniel Petrole, said he was acting on behalf of Wolfe. Barber later recanted, leading a federal judge to overturn the conviction.

In court papers, Wolfe’s defense lawyers describe parts of the jailhouse conversation. They say that Barber maintained that his original testimony implicating Wolfe was false. Prosecutors then tell Barber that the case is back at “square one” and that Barber himself could face death penalty charges if he failed to uphold his original testimony, according to the motion.