William Virgil retrial set for April, 30 years after he was first charged with murder
But the case is temporarily on hold as Campbell Circuit Court Judge Fred Stine seeks an ethical opinion from the state Judicial Conduct Commission about whether he should recuse himself
NEWPORT, Ky., (WDRB) – The new trial for William Virgil has been tentatively scheduled for April 24, almost exactly 30 years since he was first charged with the 1987 murder of Retha Welch, a Veterans Administration nurse in Newport.
But the case is temporarily on hold as Campbell Circuit Court Judge Fred Stine seeks an ethical opinion from the state Judicial Conduct Commission about whether he should recuse himself.
The Kentucky Innocence Project is asking Stine to dismiss the murder charge, claiming prosecutorial misconduct in Virgil's 1988 wrongful conviction that kept him in prison for 28 years.
The Campbell Commonwealth’s Attorney’s office has asked Stine to recuse himself because he knows the former prosecutors accused of wrongdoing.
Virgil's conviction was thrown out in December, and he was released from prison on bond thanks in large part to DNA testing that was not available when he was found guilty.
On Tuesday, his new trial date was set and his attorney, Elliott Slosar, requested that while he is out on bond, Virgil be able to stop wearing an ankle monitor because it is uncomfortable and expensive. The device costs Virgil $300 a month.
Commonwealth’s Attorney Michelle Snodgrass objected, saying Virgil was already the only person in the county charged with murder who had been released from jail prior to trial.
Stine will likely not rule until he learns whether he should remove himself from the case or not. The next hearing is scheduled for October.
On April 11, 1987, Welch's body was found in a blood-filled bathtub of her Newport, Ky., apartment. She was reported to have been raped, stabbed repeatedly and bludgeoned with a vase. Her car and several items from her apartment were missing.
Stine overturned Virgil's conviction based on the findings from the Innocence Project, which include: DNA testing showed blood on Virgil's clothes did not belong to Welch and semen in her was not his; hairs found on Welch's clothing did not match Virgil; witnesses' stories no longer held up under scrutiny; and other suspects were ignored.
Prosecutors announced they would retry Virgil and have said there is other evidence still pointing to him being the killer.
The Innocence Project alleges prosecutors were responsible for destroying a knife in 2005 that had been used as evidence during Virgil’s trial "with full knowledge that forensic testing of the knife could lead to Mr. Virgil's complete exoneration."
Prosecutors asked a judge to order the knife destroyed without Virgil being present or being provided notice that such a request took place, according to the motion. The knife had been linked to another suspect in Welch's death.
Slosar and the Innocence Project claim nearly 100 pieces of physical evidence from the trial have been retained, including two other knives.
Virgil's attorneys also allege that a jailhouse informant who told jurors Virgil confessed to him while the two shared a jail cell had recanted his testimony in a sworn affidavit.
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