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Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine has found another reason to break a campaign promise by failing to go through with yesterday's scheduled execution of Edward Nathaniel Bell.
Kaine's reasoning is shallow.
In staying the execution of Bell ? convicted of murdering Winchester Police Sgt. Rick L. Timbrook in 1999 ? Kaine said he feared the emotional toll such an execution, and possible delay, takes on those administering the justice, as well as the families of the victim.
Stated Kaine: "Stays in the final hours before an execution can take an emotional and physical toll on those who must prepare for the execution... ." Kaine's reasoning was that a stay was inevitable because of an issue before the United States Supreme Court in which the Court is deciding on the constitutionality of using lethal injection. In that case, Baze vs. Rees, two Kentucky death-row inmates have argued that the lethal three-chemical cocktail used by 36 states, including Virginia, causes unnecessary pain and suffering.
It's unfortunate the Court is considering that issue at all. But in the meantime, while the issue is still to be decided, the Governor should not stand in the way of upholding the law of the land. If the U.S. Supreme Court decides to do so, then so be it. But Kaine, though he said he personally objects to the death penalty because of his Catholic beliefs, promised Virginia voters he wouldn't let those beliefs stand in the way of the law. His ruling appears to be another opportunity to ease his own conscience ? at the expense of justice and the victim's families.
That's certainly how Attorney General Bob McDonnell saw Kaine's ruling.
"The question of whether a stay should be granted is first and foremost a legal decision to be made by a court," McDonnell stated.
And in suspending the execution, Kaine extended his ruling to all executions in Virginia prior to a court ruling being handed down, possibly in July.
That appropriately bothered McDonnell as well. "This moratorium will preempt the United States Supreme Court's ability to decide whether other Virginia capital murderers present sufficient legal grounds to stay an execution," McDonnell stated in his response. "Additionally, other death-row inmates affected by the Governor's actions have yet to select a method of execution as Virginia law provides, and only lethal injection cases are at issue in the Baze case."
The father of the murdered Winchester police officer was, of course, critical of Kaine's actions last week. According to a story in the Virginian-Pilot, Richard Timbrook said while the governor has the right to oppose the death penalty, "he didn't have the right to push his views on me." He said Kaine had "bare-faced lied to us," adding that the governor "had an obligation to the people."
Yes, he did.
The truth is, such delays do hurt the victims' families the most. And the Governor prematurely took action.
Kaine had a responsibility to follow the laws currently on the books. He should have done just that.