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Cop killer gets temporary reprieve from death sentence

The Associated Press

WASHINGTON -- The Supreme Court on Monday granted a temporary reprieve to a death row inmate in Virginia to consider whether lower courts correctly weighed his claim that his lawyer did a poor job of representing him.

Edward Nathaniel Bell, 40, had been facing execution in July for murdering a police officer.

Bell asked the court to step into his case, arguing that he could have been spared a death sentence if his lawyer had done a better job of representing him during the sentencing phase of his trial.

His execution was previously delayed by the Supreme Court's consideration of lethal injection procedures. The court upheld the execution method last month.

The justices said they would resolve an issue that has split federal appeals courts around the country.

Death row inmates may petition the federal system to review their cases after they have run out of appeals in state courts. Some appeals courts have deferred to state court rulings against the defendant, even when new evidence becomes available in the federal appeal. Other courts have taken the evidence into account.

Bell contends that the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond was wrong when it determined that Virginia courts acted reasonably in turning down his claims. Bell argues that the state refused to consider evidence that could show he was deprived of adequate representation in violation of his constitutional rights.

The high court will hear arguments in the case in the fall.

Bell was convicted and sentenced to death in 2001 for killing Winchester, Va., Sgt. Ricky Timbrook in October 1999.

Timbrook was looking for a probation violator when he spotted Bell and pursued him on foot. Prosecutors said Bell shot Timbrook in the face because he feared the officer would find him carrying a gun or drugs.

The case is Bell v. Kelly, 07-1223.

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