High court won’t spare death
By Christina Nuckols, The Virginian-Pilot - October 4, 2005
RICHMOND — The U.S. Supreme Court
has refused to consider an appeal from a Virginia death row
inmate who maintained his
life should be spared because evidence used in his trial was
improperly destroyed by a court official.
Robin M. Lovitt’s execution was delayed in July after
the court issued a rare stay, but the justices opted not to grant
his attorneys a hearing after reviewing Lovitt’s petition.
The court’s decision was announced Monday, the same day
Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. was sworn in as the court’s
newest justice. Roberts did not participate in the decision.
Lovitt, 41, was convicted and sentenced
to death for the 1998 stabbing murder of Clayton Dicks, the
manager of an Arlington
pool hall. Lovitt’s appeals were still in progress when
a court clerk threw away most of the evidence, including a pair
of scissors prosecutors said was the murder weapon. Because of
that error, Lovitt has been unable to seek new tests using more
advanced forensic technology that he says could prove his innocence.
A new execution date was not announced.
Lovitt’s attorneys have asked Gov. Mark R. Warner to commute
the inmate’s sentence to life in prison without parole.
On Monday, Warner would not comment on the possibility of clemency
for Lovitt, saying there were still legal steps Lovitt could
take before appealing to the governor.
Lovitt’s attorneys could file a petition for rehearing,
but such requests are rare and usually unsuccessful, said L.
Steven Emmert, chairman of the appellate practice committee of
the Virginia State Bar’s litigation section. “This
was, in all probability, the end of the courtroom route,” Emmert
Warner said former Attorney General Mark Earley approached him
before the last stay of execution and made a thoughtful, passionate
plea for Lovitt.
“I have a tremendous amount of respect for Mark Earley
and the work he has done,” said Warner, who ran against
Earley in the 2001 governor’s race.
Earley, who grew up in Chesapeake, now serves as president of
Prison Fellowship, a national nonprofit group that offers religious
programs and support services for inmates and their families.
He learned about the case from his longtime friend, Kenneth W.
Starr, a former federal judge who served
as special prosecutor in the investigations of former President
finance and sex scandals, is handling Lovitt’s appeal as
a pro bono case.
Robin M. Lovitt said key evidence that may have cleared him
has been destroyed.
Staff writer Louis Hansen contributed to this report.
Reach Christina Nuckols at (804) 697-1562 or christina.nuckols@