Tuesday, 27 March 2007

Governor vetoes proposed expansion of Virginia death penalty

Governor vetoes proposed expansion of Virginia death penalty

RICHMOND, Va. - Gov. Timothy M. Kaine, a Democrat with a personal aversion to the death penalty, on Monday announced he has vetoed five bills that would have expanded the crimes punishable by death in Virginia.

Kaine vetoed bills that would have automatically made capital crimes of killing judges or witnesses to influence a judicial outcome, and arranging for a murder-for-hire.

The governor noted that Virginia is second only to Texas in the number of executions it carries out.

"While the nature of the offenses targeted by this legislation are very serious, I do not believe that further expansion of the death penalty is necessary to protect human life or provide for public safety needs," Kaine said in a news release explaining his veto.

The Republican-dominated General Assembly passed all five of the measures with sufficient votes to override the vetoes, and will have to chance to do it during the legislature's one-day reconvened session on April 4.

Del. M. Kirkland Cox, R-Colonial Heights, said an override effort is likely.

"Obviously, we felt like those were narrowly drawn death penalty statutes that we thought were appropriate, so we'll listen to what the governor has to say on that," Cox said at a news conference where he discussed amendments Kaine made to the transportation bill.

Kaine was elected two years ago acknowledging his objection to the death penalty, but pledging to carry out Virginia's existing death penalty laws. Kaine, the state's first Roman Catholic governor, represented death row inmates as a lawyer in private practice and based his objection on his religious teachings.

Last year, Kaine allowed four executions to proceed and intervened to halt the execution of one man, Percy Walton, amid claims the man was mentally retarded and insane.

Two of the bills prescribe the death penalty for the premeditated killing of judges or justices to interfere with the judge's official duties. Likewise, two of them extend capital punishment for the premeditated killing of witnesses under subpoena, also to influence the outcome of a case.

One bill redefines the so-called triggerman rule, which currently makes only the person who actually commits a homicide eligible for capital punishment, and extends it to those who plan or arrange for others to carry out a killing.

Two statewide elected Republicans called on legislators to override the vetoes, a move that requires 67 votes in the 100-member House and 27 votes in the 40-member Senate.

Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling said that by vetoing the bills, Kaine "missed an excellent opportunity to address gang violence and make Virginians safer."

Republican Attorney General Robert F. McDonnell said in a news release that the triggerman rule change would have given prosecutors another way obtain a death sentence for John Allen Muhammad, who was convicted and placed on Virginia's death row for the 2002 sniper attacks. Muhammad trained and persuaded his protege, Lee Boyd Malvo, a juvenile at the time, to carry out several of the fatal shootings, according to court testimony.

Virginia has carried out 98 executions since 1976, the year the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty, but had no executions so far this year. Texas has executed 388 people during that time, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

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