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Earl Washington's Legal Timeline

Time line from Barry Weinstein as printed in "Earl Washington's Ordeal," by Eric M. Freedman in the Hofstra Law Review Summer 2001. Click here to read the article (Requires Acrobat)

June 4, 1982: Rebecca Lynn Williams, a nineteen year-old mother of three, is raped and murdered in her Culpeper, Virginia, apartment.

May 21, 1983: Earl Washington is arrested in Warrenton, Virginia, in Fauquier County, on an unrelated case-burglary and malicious wounding. During two days of questioning by law enforcement officials from the Virginia State Police, Culpeper County, and Fauquier County, he confesses to four other crimes including the Williams murder.

Nov. 2, 1983: Trial Judge F. Ward Harkrader, Jr. rules that Washington's confession was voluntary and could be used against him at trial.

Jan. 18-20, 1984: Washington's trial (guilt and penalty phases), results in jury's decision to convict and impose death penalty.

March 12, 1984: Sentencing hearing and imposition of the death penalty by Trial Judge David F. Berry.

March 20, 1984: In its written order imposing the death penalty, trial court sets execution date of July 27, 1984. Execution date subsequently stayed by the Virginia Supreme Court pending appeal.

May 1, 1984: Washington pleads guilty to burglary and malicious wounding and is sentenced to two fifteen-year sentences (thirty years) to run consecutively.

May 9, 1984: Washington is sent to Virginia's death row at Mecklenburg Correctional Center.

Nov. 30, 1984: Virginia Supreme Court affirms capital conviction and sentence of death.

May 13, 1985: U.S. Supreme Court denies review.

July 3, 1985: Trial court sets execution date of September 5, 1985, and denies motion by trial counsel for appointment of state habeas counsel.

Aug. 16, 1985: Washington is transferred to the execution site, Virginia State Penitentiary in Richmond, and hears electric chair being tested.

Aug. 19, 1985: Joseph Giarratano, a fellow death-row inmate, and Marie Deans, director of the Virginia Coalition on Jails and Prisons, describe Earl's plight to Martha Geer, who is at the prison on a different case. She persuades her firm, Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison of New York City, to represent Washington pro bono.

Aug. 27, 1985: A team of lawyers from Paul, Weiss, spearheaded by Eric M. Freedman, files state habeas petition and application for stay of execution. Stay application is granted by Judge Lloyd C. Sullenberger nine days before scheduled execution. Washington returns to Virginia's death row at Mecklenburg Correctional Center. Robert T. Hall enters case.

Dec. 23, 1986: State trial court denies state habeas petition without an evidentiary hearing.

Feb. 26, 1988: Virginia Supreme Court denies petition for appeal.

July 28, 1988: Federal habeas petition filed in Eastern District of Virginia.

Oct. 25, 1989: U.S. District Judge Claude M. Hilton denies petition for federal habeas corpus relief without an evidentiary hearing. Appeal filed.

Dec. 19, 1991: U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit remands case back to the U.S. District Court for an evidentiary hearing on issue of ineffective assistance of counsel for failure to investigate and introduce exculpatory semen stains found on blanket where crime took place.

April 6, 1992: Gerald T. Zerkin enters case. District court conducts evidentiary hearing.

July 29, 1992: Judge Hilton once again denies petition for federal habeas corpus relief.

Sept. 17, 1993: Fourth Circuit, by a 2-1 vote, affirms district court ruling.

Oct. 8, 1993: Fourth Circuit, by a 2-1 vote, denies petition for rehearing. Lawyers anticipate imminent execution date.

Oct. 25, 1993: A DNA test done by Virginia Division of Forensic Science on biological evidence reveals a genetic marker that could not have come from Washington. But Virginia's 21-day rule prohibits a return to court for relief on the grounds of newly discovered evidence. Barry A. Weinstein, Barry C. Scheck, and Peter Neufeld enter case.

Dec.20, 1993: Washington files petition for pardon with Governor L. Douglas Wilder.

Jan. 14, 1994: Hours before the expiration of his term on January 15, Governor Wilder commutes Washington's sentence of death to life imprisonment with possibility of parole.

Jan., 2000: Washington requests that Governor James Gilmore, III conduct further DNA testing on the biological material previously tested by the Virginia Bureau of Forensic Science.

June 1, 2000: Under press pressure, Governor Gilmore grants request and orders additional DNA testing.

Sept. 7, 2000: Still without test results, Washington files pardon petition with the governor.

Oct. 2, 2000: Governor Gilmore grants an absolute pardon to Washington as to the capital murder conviction but refuses to consider unrelated burglary and malicious wounding convictions. Virginia Department of Corrections subsequently determines that Washington would have been eligible for parole consideration on January 25, 1989, on those charges and that his mandatory release date is February 12, 2001.

Dec. 22, 2000: Virginia Parole Board denies discretionary parole release.

Feb. 12, 2001: Washington is released from prison to parole supervision.

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