12 surprising facts about a Virginia death row case

Virginia plans to execute an innocent man, Ivan Teleguz, on April 25.

12 surprising facts about a Virginia death row case

1. An alibi

At the time of the murder, Ivan was in Pennsylvania preparing to celebrate his youngest sister’s baptism, a big event for their devout Christian family. He also produced receipts from a Pennsylvania store, proving that he was not in Virginia at the time Stephanie Sipe, Ivan’s high school girlfriend and mother of his child, was killed.

2. No DNA evidence

Blood found at the crime scene was supposed to prove Ivan’s guilt, but testing showed that his DNA was not at the scene. Ivan gave a DNA sample; it was later revealed that the investigator lied to obtain the warrant.

3. A doubtful motive

The prosecutor told the jury that Ivan hired Michael Hetrick to kill Stephanie to avoid child support payments. But Ivan’s child support caseworker had only positive things to say about him and revealed that he was making his payments, and continued to pay for years after the murder. This was an implausible motive anyway because killing the child’s mother would not excuse Ivan from his payments.

4. An unusual request

When Aleksey Safanov agreed to testify against Ivan, he was facing federal gun charges and deportation. In exchange for implicating Ivan, the prosecutor offered to make an “unusual” request to the authorities – a generous sentence reduction and a U.S. visa.

5. Witness told what to say

Large parts of Edwin Gilkes’s interrogation were not recorded, and he has since revealed that investigators told him what to say. Gilkes knew Ivan, but not well. He didn’t even know Ivan’s last name, and investigators had to show him a photo so he could identify Ivan.

6. Death penalty threats and a deal

Gilkes got a deal of a reduced sentence of 15 years in prison (release date in 2018) for his role in the murder. He was told that Ivan was the one they wanted and that he would face the death penalty unless he implicated Ivan.

7. More threats and another deal

Michael Hetrick, the man who eventually confessed to killing Stephanie, originally told police that he did not know Ivan and had not been hired by anyone to commit the murder. Investigators then told Hetrick that he had to implicate Ivan to avoid the death penalty.

8. Police told the witness about Ivan – it should have been the other way around

Investigators gave Hetrick all the information he needed about Ivan and the murder, rather than Hetrick giving information to the police. He was fed Ivan’s supposed motive, the details of the murder, and the amount Ivan allegedly paid him.

9. Too dangerous to be allowed to live

In order to secure a death sentence, the prosecutor relied on a different murder that Ivan had supposedly been involved with in Ephrata, Pennsylvania. Jurors were told that murder was how Ivan “solves problems,” that he could “dial up a murder” at any time, and that he had access to their names and addresses. The jury sentenced Ivan to death, but investigation later revealed that the Ephrata murder never happened.

10. Recanted testimony

Since Ivan’s trial, two of the three key prosecution witnesses have come forward to tell the truth – that Ivan is innocent and that they lied in court in return for favorable plea deals. Both put themselves at risk by coming forward to admit that they lied under oath at the trial.

11. Serious questions about guilt and missed opportunities for justice

The court found that there were serious questions about Ivan’s guilt, and it would be necessary to take live testimony in order to assess Ivan’s innocence. But Aleksey Safanov had been deported to Kyrgyzstan, and could not appear in court. Edwin Gilkes and Michael Hetrick were once again threatened with murder charges – and Hetrick with the death penalty –if they changed their stories in court. So, Gilkes and Safanov chose not to testify.

12. This is not enough evidence to execute

Two out of the three key prosecution witnesses have made sworn statements recanting their testimony and confirming Ivan’s innocence. But because they were not able to testify in court, Ivan still faces execution.

Now, the only evidence of Ivan’s guilt is the statement of the man who actually committed the murder – Michael Hetrick.