Governor commutes death sentence, cites false information in penalty phase

Ivan Teleguz

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe on Thursday called off a man’s execution in a 2006 murder-for-hire case, saying he had concerns about some of the evidence presented to jurors. Ivan Teleguz was scheduled to be executed on Tuesday, but McAuliffe commuted his sentence to life in prison without the possibility of parole. It’s the first execution that the Democratic governor has stopped since taking office. The governor denied Teleguz’s request to be declared innocent, and said he still believes Teleguz is guilty. But McAuliffe said he would spare Teleguz’s life because of unsupported information provided to jurors that he believes impacted the jury’s decision to sentence Teleguz to death. McAuliffe said the jury was told that Teleguz was involved in another murder in Pennsylvania and was part of the “Russian Mafia,” but the governor said there is no evidence to support those claims.

Teleguz was convicted in 2006 of hiring a man to kill 20-year-old Stephanie Sipe, the mother of his child. Sipe was stabbed to death in her Harrisonburg apartment. Sipe’s mother found her body two days later, along with their 2-year-old son, who was unharmed.

McAuliffe has overseen two executions since he took office in 2014. Convicted serial killer Alfredo Prieto was given a lethal injection in October 2015. Ricky Gray, who killed a well-known Richmond family of four, was executed in January.

Eight death row prisoners in Virginia have been granted clemency since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. The last Virginia governor to spare a condemned man was Gov. Tim Kaine, when he commuted convicted murder Percy Walton’s sentence to life in prison in 2008.

The governor’s decision in Teleguz’s case comes as an aggressive effort in Arkansas to conduct that state’s first executions since 2005 stalled for a second time this week when courts blocked lethal injections. Pharmaceuticals companies and other suppliers have objected to their drugs being used in executions and have been trying to stop states from getting supplies for lethal injections.

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