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Supreme Court stays Virginia execution

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday granted a stay in the execution of a Virginia man convicted of fatally stabbing the manager of a pool hall.
/ Source: The Associated Press

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday granted a stay in the execution of a man convicted of fatally stabbing the manager of a pool hall.

Robin Lovitt was scheduled to be executed at 9 p.m., barring intervention from the high court or Gov. Mark R. Warner. The court's action was made without comment.

Lovitt, 41, was convicted in 1999 in the slaying of Clayton Dicks, 44, during a pool hall robbery in Arlington. Lawyers sought last-minute court intervention in a case in which the murder weapon and other evidence was destroyed after the trial.

Among those fighting the execution are Kenneth Starr, the former independent counsel in the Clinton Whitewater investigation, who argued the case before the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in February.

The appeals court rejected that argument, and Lovitt’s attorneys filed an application for a stay of execution with the U.S. Supreme Court on June 28.

A cash box from the pool hall was found at the home of Lovitt’s cousin, and a pair of bloody scissors was found in woods halfway between the pool hall and the cousin’s home.

Additional DNA testing impossible
But Lovitt’s lawyers and opponents of capital punishment have argued that the jury conviction should be reviewed because a court clerk destroyed most of the evidence in his case, including the bloody scissors, in 2001. That made additional DNA testing impossible. Initial DNA tests of the scissors had proved inconclusive.

In May, more concerns were raised after an independent audit found the state crime lab erred in critical testing in the case of another death row inmate, Earl Washington Jr., who was pardoned.

The audit prompted the governor, a Democrat, to call for a scientific review of more than 160 cases handled by the lab. The review team last month concluded the lab properly handled the DNA evidence in Lovitt’s case.

Other evidence
The Virginia attorney general’s office has maintained that DNA evidence was not critical to the conviction because of “very compelling, strong evidence,” including eyewitness testimony.

“He was found guilty by 12 jurors, two trial judges, seven state justices, one federal district judge and three federal appellate judges,” spokeswoman Emily Lucier said. “This has been determined.”

Lovitt, who declined an interview request, has steadfastly maintained his innocence, his lawyers said. They argue Lovitt was denied the opportunity to have the DNA in his case retested. Lawyers from the Washington, D.C., law firm Kirkland & Ellis took the case on for free.

Jack Payden-Travers, executive director of Virginians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, said “it boggles that mind that Virginia is even proceeding with this and that the governor hasn’t intervened before now to stop it. We are going to be the laughingstock of the justice system if Virginia proceeds with this execution.”

The Supreme Court of Virginia in 2000 found no error by the trial court and affirmed Lovitt’s conviction and death sentence. The following year, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to consider Lovitt’s appeal.

The scissors were among items discarded to free up space in Arlington County Circuit Court’s evidence room. In 2003, the Virginia Supreme Court rejected Lovitt’s claim that his due process rights were violated. The justices ruled a court employee did not act in bad faith when he ordered the evidence destroyed.