RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — For weeks, supporters of a man sentenced to death in a 2006 murder-for-hire case urged Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe to spare his life because they believe he may be innocent. In the end, they got their wish, but not because the governor doubts he’s guilty.
McAuliffe said Thursday that he believes Ivan Teleguz hired another man to kill his ex-girlfriend in 2001. But the Democrat said he cannot let Teleguz be put to death because jurors were given false information that may have swayed their sentencing decision.
“American values demand that every person, no matter their crime, be given the due process of law,” McAuliffe said. “In this case, we now know that the jury acted on false information, and that it was driven by passions and fears raised – not from actual evidence introduced at trial – but from inference.”
Teleguz, 38, who maintains that he is innocent, was scheduled to be executed Tuesday. But McAuliffe commuted his sentence to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
He was convicted in 2006 of ordering the death of 20-year-old Stephanie Sipe, the mother of his child, who 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 had faced mounting pressure to call off the execution out of concern over executing a possibly innocent man after two key prosecution witnesses who implicated Teleguz recanted their testimony.
McAuliffe said his office received roughly 6,000 calls and letters about Teleguz’s case — the vast majority urging clemency. British billionaire Richard Branson and the newspaper in Virginia’s capital city were among those calling on McAuliffe to spare Teleguz.
But McAuliffe said doubts about Teleguz’s guilt didn’t spur his decision. It was the fact that parts of the man’s trial were “terribly flawed,” he said.
Jurors were told Teleguz was involved in another murder in Pennsylvania, which never happened, McAuliffe said. It was also suggested that Teleguz was involved with the “Russian mafia,” but there’s no evidence to support that, McAuliffe said.
McAuliffe said he thinks that made jurors fear for their safety, noting that they asked the judge whether Teleguz could access their personal information and addresses.
Teleguz’s execution was the first that McAuliffe has stopped since taking office in 2014. McAuliffe, a Catholic, has said he’s personally opposed to capital punishment, but will uphold the law as governor.
Teleguz is the 9th Virginia death row prisoner to be granted clemency since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.
His attorneys said he’s grateful to those who supported his clemency effort, and said he will continue to fight to clear his name.
“He asks for their continued support as he works now to fully prove that he is not responsible for Stephanie’s death,” attorneys Elizabeth Peiffer and Michael Williams said in…