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Appeals court revives Va. death-row inmate's claim

Thursday - 8/2/2012, 5:48pm  ET

RICHMOND, Va. - A federal appeals court on Thursday revived the innocence claims of a Virginia death-row inmate convicted of hiring another man to kill his former girlfriend.

A three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously ruled Thursday that a judge failed to thoroughly analyze new evidence in Ivan Teleguz's case. The appeals court sent the case back to U.S. District Judge James P. Jones in Roanoke for a closer look.

"I am pleased that today's ruling by the 4th Circuit recognized the strength of Ivan's evidence of innocence," said Teleguz's lawyer, Matthew Stiegler of Philadelphia. "We look forward to an opportunity to present that evidence before the district court."

The Virginia attorney general's office did not immediately respond to an email message.

Since Teleguz's 2006 capital murder conviction, two key prosecution witnesses have recanted.

Alesky Safanov testified that Teleguz initially tried to hire him to kill Stephanie Sipe to get out of paying child support for their infant son. Safanov, who lives in Kazakhstan, now insists he never discussed the murder with Teleguz and that he testified only because he thought his cooperation would allow him to remain in the United States despite pending federal gun charges.

Edwin Gilkes says his testimony that he attended a party where Teleguz hired the hit man was coerced by a prosecutor who threatened to pin the murder on him. Gilkes also testified that he was afraid of Teleguz because he had heard the Ukraine native was a member of the Russian mafia and had shot a man to death in Ephrata, Pa. Teleguz claims he has new evidence that such a murder never happened.

The appeals court said Jones must consider the totality of the evidence.

"The district court must make a holistic determination of how a reasonable juror would perceive all of the evidence in the record," the court said.

The appeals court left it up to Jones whether to simply conduct a new analysis or order an evidentiary hearing.


(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)