Release of slaying-case decision is sought
BY CARLOS SANTOS AND FRANK GREEN
TIMES-DISPATCH STAFF WRITERS
Saturday, February 7, 2004
CHARLOTTESVILLE - A special prosecutor from Albemarle County has concluded his review of the police-investigative files of the vicious 1982 slaying of Rebecca Williams.
His decision on whether to prosecute has been sealed by a federal magistrate. Now lawyers representing former death-row inmate Earl Washington Jr. strongly suggest the prosecutor will not charge anyone and they want the decision made public.
They argue there is no investigation into the slaying - the justification for keeping secret much of the material produced in a civil suit about the slaying and subsequent investigation.
Washington spent more than nine years on death row for the capital murder of Williams, who was raped in her Culpeper apartment and stabbed 38 times. Gov. Jim Gilmore pardoned Washington in 2000 when new DNA tests failed to turn up evidence linking him to the crime scene.
The tests did, however, find the DNA of a convicted rapist in semen stains on a blanket in Williams' apartment. Gilmore ordered an investigation.
In a suit filed in U.S. District Court in Charlottesville in September 2002, Washington alleges Fauquier County, Culpeper and state investigators sent him to death row when there was abundant evidence he was innocent.
Some of the material produced by parties to the suit has been kept secret by protective orders because of concerns by the state police over the confidential nature of the criminal investigation and the integrity of any future prosecution.
But Washington's lawyers asked that the protective orders be lifted in a motion filed yesterday.
The motion contends, "there is no such investigation." Washington's lawyers said they agreed to enter into each of the protective orders only to speed the suit's discovery process based upon statements that there was an ongoing criminal investigation.
The special prosecutor, Albemarle County Commonwealth's Attorney Jim Camblos, was appointed in August by the Culpeper County Circuit Court. Camblos referred all questions about his decision to a letter he filed in U.S. District Court in Charlottesville this week.
That letter has been sealed by the court.
But in their filing yesterday, Washington's lawyers said that "in light of the Feb. 3, 2004, letter of Special Prosecutor James Camblos III . . . there is more than good cause to vacate the protective orders: the only justification for them was nonexistent.
"The protective orders should be lifted first and foremost because the stated justification for keeping them private never existed, or, to be charitable, if once existed, it no longer does," Washington's lawyers contend.
They said their suit has gathered evidence "including the identity of the convicted rapist whose DNA was identified in the semen mixed with the victim's bodily fluids on the . . . blanket on which she was stabbed and sexually assaulted; his criminal history; circumstantial evidence of his motive and opportunity to commit this crime; and admissions by him" must be kept secret unless the protective orders are lifted.
"As a matter of law and simple justice, Mr. Washington should be able to proclaim his innocence publicly, and marshal evidence to prove it," they said, adding, "the extraordinary discovery so far in this case proves both Earl Washington Jr.'s innocence, and that defendants committed misconduct of constitutional proportions to cause his wrongful conviction."
A spokesman for Attorney General Jerry W. Kilgore said yesterday that "the matters relating to the ongoing investigation of the death of Rebecca Lynn Williams are under seal. While neither confirming nor denying the existence of a report regarding an ongoing investigation by the Department of State Police, release of any such report would be a criminal violation."
According to open court files, Camblos was to review three volumes of a state police investigative report before making his decision on whether to prosecute any suspects.
"This is a very serious homicide involving the rape and brutal murder of Rebecca Lynn Williams,'' Camblos wrote in a Dec. 17 letter to the state attorney general's office and the state police on file in court. "It is an open investigation at this time and I intend to investigate it as fully and thoroughly as I am able, given the circumstances and the significant passage of time.''
In a telephone conference this week among lawyers in the case, a motion to make the Camblos' decision public was denied by Magistrate B. Waugh Crigler, according to court records. The court record of that private conference - in notes form - reads: "Motion to make Camblos letter public. Arguments heard. Court disagrees. Will take up with Judge Moon.'' U.S. District Judge Norman K. Moon is hearing the civil suit brought by Washington.
Contact Carlos Santos at (434) 295-9542 or firstname.lastname@example.org