Episode 4 – Virginia is about to execute an innocent man
Episode 3 – A fabricated case and a made up murder
Episode 2 – Threats, lies, and deals
Episode 1 – Prejudiced investigation, DNA evidence, and a doubtful motive
On July 22, 2001, Michael Hetrick killed Stephanie Sipe in her apartment in Harrisonburg, Virginia. After the murder, investigators quickly focused on Ivan Teleguz, the father of Stephanie’s child, as their primary suspect. Even though DNA evidence at the crime scene showed early in the investigation that Ivan could not have been the killer, the Commonwealth continued to pursue Ivan and built a case against him based on the word of three men: Hetrick; Edwin Gilkes; and Aleksey Safanov.
At Ivan’s trial, these men told jurors that Ivan had hired Hetrick and Gilkes to kill Stephanie. Ivan was found guilty based on this testimony.The alleged motive was that Ivan did not want to pay child support, although investigation would show that Ivan actually was making child support payments before Stephanie’s murder, and he continued to do so after her death.
Three men: Michael Hetrick; Edwin Gilkes; and Aleksey Safanov told jurors that Ivan had hired Hetrick and Gilkes to kill Stephanie Sipe. Now, years after the trial, Gilkes and Safanov have come forward to admit they lied when they claimed that Ivan was involved in the murder, and that Ivan is innocent.
Each of the three men testified against Ivan in return for a favorable deal in his own case. Hetrick, the actual killer, avoided a death sentence in exchange for his testimony. Gilkes, who also was scared of ending up on death row himself, was given a 15-year prison sentence in return for testifying against Ivan. And Safanov was told the prosecutor could help him to obtain a U.S. visa—allowing him to stay in the country with his family despite his federal gun convictions—in return for saying Ivan hired the murderer.
During the trial, Edwin Gilkes told jurors that Ivan was involved with some Russians in another murder outside a recreation center in Ephrata, Pennsylvania. The prosecutor relied on this testimony in arguing that Ivan was too dangerous to live, because he could “dial up” another hired murder from prison at any time. The argument worked. Jurors feared for their own safety, and quickly sentenced Ivan to death.
After Ivan was sent to death row, investigation revealed that the murder outside the recreation center in Ephrata—which had convinced jurors to sentence Ivan to death—had never even happened. No murder had ever occurred outside the recreation center in Ephrata. Gilkes later admitted he had lied about Ivan’s involvement in the murder.
A religious Christian, hard worker, and loving brother and son, Ivan Teleguz is an unlikely death row inmate.
As a young boy, Ivan fled with his family to the United States from the persecution they faced for their Christian beliefs. Ivan’s family comes from a small, rural town in Ukraine, a part of the former U.S.S.R., where the family was harassed and threatened by the Communist government because they were Christians. After trying for years to escape so that they could worship in freedom, the Teleguz family was finally able to reach the United States. They eventually settled in a small farming town called Ephrata, Pennsylvania.