Terry McAuliffe has called off Teleguz's execution in a murder-for-hire case, citing concerns about some of the information presented to jurors.
"Because the sentencing phase of Mr. Teleguz's trial was flawed, I must commute his capital sentence to life in prison without parole", the Democratic governor said.
"Governor McAuliffe correctly recognized that our system of justice can not stand by and allow an execution to proceed when jurors were told to impose a death sentence based on false information", Elizabeth Peiffer, one of Teleguz's attorneys, said in a statement on Thursday. But he said he can not let him be put to death because jurors were given false information that may have swayed their sentencing decision. It was also suggested that Teleguz was involved with the "Russian mafia", but there's no evidence to support that, McAuliffe said. During the trial, three witnesses testified that Teleguz recruited them to kill Sipe, Peiffer said, adding that two later recanted their statements.
The man convicted of fatally stabbing Stephanie Sipe in 2001 has maintained that Teleguz hired him to do the killing.
Sipe's sister has said her family remains convinced Teleguz is guilty. Whitfield, the police investigator, said prison staff members tell him Teleguz is a "model prisoner".
After the two prosecution witnesses recanted their trial testimony in written affidavits, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ordered a judge to conduct a hearing on Teleguz's innocence claim. As for the third, Michael Hetrick, whose DNA was found at the crime scene, was allegedly threatened with the death penalty himself if he refused to testify against Teleguz. He is deeply religious and spends most of his time in prison doing Bible studies, his attorneys said. Convicted serial killer Alfredo Prieto was given a lethal injection in October 2015.
Eight death row prisoners in Virginia have been granted clemency since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. The last Virginia governor to spare a condemned man was Gov. Tim Kaine, when he commuted convicted murder Percy Walton's sentence to life in prison in 2008.
The governor's decision in Teleguz's case comes as an aggressive effort in Arkansas to conduct that state's first executions since 2005 stalled for a second time this week when courts blocked lethal injections.