Murder-for-Hire Case Ends Badly When Witnesses Fail to Show Up

By Jonathan R. Tung, Esq. on December 04, 2015 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

In a murder-for-hire case that has all the hallmarks of a mafia series, the Fourth Circuit affirmed a lower district court's ruling by denying a petition for review of habeas and essentially affirmed a contested application of the doctrine under AEDPA.

The opinion is long, but the facts of this case are worth it.


Ivan Teleguz wanted his ex-girlfriend dead. A model citizen, he wanted to get off the hook of child-support payments and so arranged to have her killed. When his girlfriend was found dead in her residence, LEO had Teleguz as a suspect. The investigation stalled until a tip from an inmate named Safanov eventually led law enforcement to indict Teleguz. He was later convicted for the murder.

Two witnesses, Gilkes and Hetrick, corroborated Safanov's testimony. Hetrick was the man hired by Teleguz to do the actual killing. Upon conviction, Teleguz appealed his counts and also sough review of claims that had been procedurally defaulted against him. Teleguz claimed that he had new evidence to show that he didn't commit the murder through conspiracy. Such a procedure is usually known as a "Gateway Innocence Claim."

According to Teleguz, witnesses were prepared to recant their testimony that had led to his conviction. Also, he argued the lower court had abused its discretion for having just rebuffed his petition for review.

Day of Not Showing up

At a hearing to hear the recanted testimony, the Gilkes refused to testify and Safanov didn't show up. Hetrick gave a story that was consistent with what he told courts during the first round. All of this earned Teleguz another denial for wanting of an "actual showing of innocence."

Weird Contentions

One of the main issues in the case was whether or not the district court erred by applying the wrong standard when it denied his claim under Gateway to Innocence. However, the circuit court found that there was no reason to disturb the lower court's denial because no reasonable jury could have otherwise concluded, with the totality of the facts presented, that a sentence of jail time for Teleguz was a miscarriage of justice.

He had claimed that the state had falsified evidence that he was involved in another murder and that this was "aggravating evidence" was proof that there was a "reasonable probability that disproving [that murder] would have changed the outcome of the case at bar." The panel also quickly dismissed his "ineffective counsel" claim and rejected any idea that the error was prejudicial against him.

Nothing procedurally shocking here. Just make sure that, when you're trying to overturn your conviction, your recanting witnesses actually show up.

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