US set to execute innocent man after key witnesses admit lying

April 18, 2012

Image of a man, distraught, clutching to the bars of his prison cell

The US state of Virginia is pressing ahead with plans to execute Ivan Teleguz, despite the near total collapse of the case against him after the prosecution’s two key witnesses admitted lying in court. 

The two men who implicated Mr Teleguz – a Ukrainian national – in the murder of a former girlfriend have both now admitted that they were pressured by the authorities into lying in exchange for a lesser sentence. 

A key prosecution witness, Aleksey Safanov has recanted his testimony and admitted that he was also pressured by the state in order to avoid deportation for another pending criminal charge – and that Mr Teleguz never told him he ordered the murder, as he had previously claimed.

However, despite this strong evidence of innocence, Virginia is pushing ahead with the execution on narrow, bureaucratic grounds: a technicality means that, because Mr Teleguz’s lawyers failed to raise these arguments in previous pleadings, they are now barred from doing so in subsequent appeals.

Mr Teleguz’s lawyers are now trying once more to prevent the State of Virginia from executing him without hearing evidence of his innocence by requesting the US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit to remand the case back to the District Court. They are asking that the District Court considers whether Mr Teleguz’s previous lawyers were ineffective in failing to raise claims of his innocence at an earlier stage.

Mr Teleguz was convicted and sentenced to death in 2006 for hiring two other men, Edwin Hetrick and Michael Gilkes, to kill a former girlfriend.  However, Mr Gilkes has since admitted that he fabricated his testimony at trial, under pressure from the state and in order to receive a lesser sentence. He now says he has no reason to believe that Mr Teleguz hired Mr Hetrick to kill the victim.

Commenting, Reprieve’s Death Penalty Director, Sophie Walker said: “Virginia must not hide behind technicalities when an innocent man’s life is in the balance. It is appalling that they are pushing ahead with this execution, when the evidence against Ivan Teleguz has all but evaporated. Virginia must think again, and let the courts consider the strong evidence that Ivan is innocent.”


1. For further information, please see Reprieve’s website or contact Donald Campbell in Reprieve’s press office: +44 (0) 207 427 1082

2. Reprieve, a legal action charity, uses the law to enforce the human rights of prisoners, from death row to Guantánamo Bay. Reprieve investigates, litigates and educates, working on the frontline, to provide legal support to prisoners unable to pay for it themselves. Reprieve promotes the rule of law around the world, securing each person’s right to a fair trial and saving lives.  Clive Stafford Smith is the founder of Reprieve and has spent 25 years working on behalf of people facing the death penalty in the USA.Reprieve’s current casework involves representing 15 prisoners in the US prison at Guantánamo Bay, assisting over 70 prisoners facing the death penalty around the world, and conducting ongoing investigations into the rendition and the secret detention of ‘ghost prisoners’ in the so-called ‘war on terror.’

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