Parole denied despite contradicted testimony from star witness

Wednesday, August 2, 2000

Associated Press Writer 

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) -- The Virginia Parole Board has denied parole to an inmate whose mother was the star prosecution witness against her daughter but later repeatedly contradicted her testimony.

 Nellie Sue Whitt was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to 40 years in prison in 1993 after her mother, Verna Horn, testified that she had run her boyfriend down with a pickup truck for $100,000 in insurance money.

 But Horn wrote a series of private letters in 1999 saying it wasn't true, supporting her daughter's claim that the death of Roy W. Thompson on a back road in Bedford County was an accident.  The Associated press obtained coopies of the letters.

When Whitt "did things that I did not approve of I set out to get even," Horn wrote in one letter explaining her testimony.

In a July 31 letter to Whitt, the Parole Board said it rejected parole because of the "serious nature and circumstances of offense,'' a reason routinely used by the board in denying parole to people convicted of violent crimes. The board said it would consider a second parole request from Whitt in 2003.

 "This is so unfair,'' a tearful Whitt said in a phone interview from the Fluvanna Correctional Center for Women.

 In a related development, the Virginia Supreme Court rejected a delayed appeal for Whitt, whose trial lawyer refused to appeal her murder conviction to the state's highest court.

 Whitt, 52, filed a handwritten petition with the Virginia Supreme Court last month, claiming ineffective representation by her lawyer, F. Rodney Fitzpatrick of Roanoke.

 Fitzpatrick wrote Whitt on June 1, 1995, confirming that he had received her request to appeal her conviction to the Supreme Court. But he said he decided not to file the appeal because it was past the deadline and because "there is no legal basis for the appeal.''

 Whitt asked Fitzpatrick to seek redress in the Supreme Court after the Virginia Court of Appeals rejected her appeal on March 3, 1995.

 Because of the denial in the intermediate court, "it was a completely futile effort and a total waste of time to rely on frivolous appeals to solve your problem,'' Fitzpatrick wrote in a letter to Whitt. He noted there were no errors by the appellate court on which to base an appeal to the Supreme Court.

 The Eighth District Committee of the Virginia State Bar is investigating the failure to appeal Whitt's case to the Virginia Supreme Court.

 Fitzpatrick has declined comment.

 In rejecting her request for a delayed appeal, the Supreme Court cited state law requiring that such petitions be filed within two years from the date of final judgment in trial court or within one year of final disposition of an appeal.

 "It's not right,'' Whitt said. "I should be automatically granted a delayed appeal because of the lawyer screwing it up.''

 Whitt, who cannot afford a lawyer, prepared the delayed appeal petition herself.

 Mike Caudill, court-appointed institutional attorney for the women's prison, said Wednesday he will help Whitt submit a clemency petition to Gov. Jim Gilmore and take her case to federal court.

Innocent Imprisoned
Truth in Justice