The Status of Joe’s Case

marie deans at the joe giarratano billboardIn February of 1991, just a few hours before he was to be executed in Virginia’s electric chair, Joe Giarratano was granted a “Conditional Pardon,” by then Governor L. Douglas Wilder.

Based on a wealth of after-discovered evidence and information that was not presented at Joe’s half-day bench trial, Governor Wilder found that there was more than a reasonable doubt concerning Joe’s guilt for the crime for which he was summarily convicted.

The Governor requested that Joe waive his right to be free of double jeopardy and agree to a new trial (which is all that Joe had requested). He commuted the death sentence to life with parole and strongly recommended a new trial.

The State Attorney General responded that under Virginia’s procedural rules, “evidence of innocence is irrelevant” more than 21 days after the conviction, and procedurally blocked Joe’s efforts to secure the new trial.

From the very beginning of the appeals process, the Attorney General successfully invoked stringent and uncompromising procedural bars to prohibit Joe’s case from being reviewed on its merits. Relying on the legal doctrine of “procedural default,” the Commonwealth denied review of every valid error in Joe’s case. Under Virginia court rules, any issue not objected to at the time of trial cannot be reviewed on appeal. Because Joe’s appointed trial attorney made no such trial objections, all appeal issues were deemed to be procedurally barred from review on their merits.

The question remains today as it did in 1991: “Is Joe Giarratano innocent??” Only a new trial, as Governor Wilder and others strongly urged, can resolve that pressing question.

On February 22, 1991, it was determined that Joe was not to die in Virginia’s electric chair, and that he was fully deserving of a new trial. Yet the Attorney General and the judicial system have determined that, due to procedural default, Joe should die in prison for a crime that the known evidence clearly indicates he did not commit.

Here are the facts!