High court won’t spare death row inmate

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 said.

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.

Starr, a former federal judge who served as special prosecutor in the investigations of former President Bill Clinton’s 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.