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Ronald Lee HOKE Sr.





Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Rape - Robbery
Number of victims: 1
Date of murder: October 4, 1985
Date of birth: October 15, 1985 (surrenders)
Date of birth: 1957
Victim profile: Virginia C. Stell (female, 56)
Method of murder: Stabbing with knife
Location: Petersburg, Virginia, USA
Status: Executed by lethal injection in Virginia on December 16, 1996

United States Court of Appeals
For the Fourth Circuit

opinion 95-4012 & 95-4013

clemency petition


An Inmate Is Executed

New York Times

December 18, 1996

A man was executed on Monday night for raping, robbing and murdering a woman hours after he was released from a mental hospital in 1985.

The man, Ronald Lee Hoke Sr., 39, was put to death by injection for the murder of Virginia Stell, a Petersburg, Va., woman he met at a bar.

Mr. Hoke raped and robbed Ms. Stell, 56, before killing her with a kitchen knife on Oct. 4, 1985, in her home, prosecutors said.

The murder occurred hours after Mr. Hoke was discharged from a state mental hospital in Petersburg. He was given a bus ticket to his home in Hagerstown, Md., and two dozen pills to counter anxiety. He cashed the bus ticket, started drinking and met Ms. Stell.


The facts

On October 15, 1985, at 3:25 a.m., Hoke flagged down a police officer in Hagerstown, Maryland, and confessed to murdering Virginia C. Stell some ten days earlier in her apartment in Petersburg, Virginia. Later that day, Hoke repeated his confession to members of the Petersburg, Virginia, police force. Two days later, while in the Petersburg jail, Hoke contacted the Petersburg police and, for the third time, confessed to murdering Stell.

On October 4 or 5, 1985, Hoke and Stell were both at the European Restaurant in Petersburg, Virginia. Stell arrived first, but Hoke later joined her at her table. At about 6:00 p.m., the two departed the restaurant together.

On October 7, 1985, police discovered Stell's body in the bedroom of her apartment. She was bound and gagged, and lying on her stomach, dead. Her wrists were bound with a blue electrical cord, which had been removed from an electric clothes iron. Her ankles were bound with a brown electrical extension cord. Her mouth was gagged with a pair of panties, which were tied around her head so tightly that they left an "impression" on her face. And her anal ring was dilated and smeared with both stool and a greasy, yellow substance, "like margarine or butter."

Stell had been stabbed twice, once in the upper right front quadrant of her body and a second time in the right side of her back. The frontal wound was six-and-one-half inches deep, and the back wound was two-and-five-eighths inches deep. Additionally, there were fresh, red bruises on her arms. The medical examiner opined that Stell had survived "at least several minutes" after being stabbed.

In Stell's bedroom, the police found a knife, covered with blood, laying on an ironing board. The blood on the knife matched Stell's blood type. Also on the ironing board was an iron, the cord from which had been removed and used to bind Stell's wrists. Several dresser drawers were open and their contents were "dumped" on the bedroom floor. Items from two purses -- including empty pill containers -- were also strewn upon the bedroom and adjacent dining room and kitchen floors. The smoke detector had been ripped from the ceiling socket.

Swabs and smears were taken from Stell's anus and vagina and tested in a laboratory for the presence of semen. The laboratory identified semen "on the vaginal swabs and smear, on the anal smear," and on a "towel labelled īperi-anal wipings.'" Semen found on the sheets and bedspread in the bedroom was consistent with Hoke's blood type.

In Hoke's first confession, on October 15, he told the Hagerstown police that he had met a woman named Virginia Stell at the European Restaurant, and that he and the woman had gone to her apartment. He said that he had then murdered her by stabbing her twice, "once in the back, once in the abdomen area in the front." After he had stabbed her, "she was screaming," so he had"placed a pillow . . . over her face to muffle [the] screaming." Hoke said that he had known the woman was dead before he left the apartment "because she wasn't breathing, she wasn't moving, and her eyes were rolled back in her head." Finally, Hoke said that he had "dumped [Stell's] purse and [taken] some pills and left" the apartment.

In Hoke's second confession on that same day, he told the Petersburg police that, after arriving at Stell's apartment, the two of them had "had sex." Then, he had "put [a knife] to her throat and tied her up, gagging her mouth, tying her hands, tying her feet together." He said that he had then stabbed her in the back with the knife, muffling her screams with a pillow, and rolled her over and stabbed her in the stomach. As Stell continued to scream, Hoke had "held the pillow over her face for between four and five minutes in an attempt to suffocate her," until she died. He had then ransacked her apartment and stole some medication that was in Stell's purse.

On October 17, while in the Petersburg jail, Hoke contacted the police and confessed for a third time. On this occasion, he told police that he had decided to kill Stell while they were walking to her apartment, adding that he had thought about killing someone for a long time, and "this seemed like a perfect opportunity" to do it.

On August 5, 1986, Hoke was tried before a jury in the Circuit Court of the City of Petersburg. The jury found Hoke guilty of capital murder in the commission of robbery, rape, and abduction. Concluding that Hoke "constitute[d] a continuing serious threat to society" or that his crime was "outrageously or wantonly vile, horrible or inhuman in that it involved torture or depravity of mind or aggravated battery to the victim," the jury "unanimously fix[ed] [Hoke's] punishment at death."



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