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Virginia Veto

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Virginia Governor Tim Kaine has once again vetoed legislation to repeal that state's triggerman rule, reports Mason Adams for the Roanoke Times. This statute automatically exempts from the death penalty a murderer who uses someone else to actually commit the killing, with a few exceptions. The state was able to fit John Allen Muhammad, the D.C. sniper, into one of the exceptions, but it was a tight fit. Maryland had no applicable exception, so this serial killer escaped the only fitting punishment for the six murders he was convicted of in that state.

A person who uses another to commit a murder as Muhammad did is more culpable, not less, than a solo actor. In cases where the nontriggerman is merely an accomplice rather than the driving force, the jury can take that into consideration as a mitigating circumstance. A bright-line exclusion of nontriggermen is irrational.

Gov. Kaine's only stated reason for his action is an opposition to "expansion of the death penalty." But Virginia does have the death penalty whether he likes it or not, and making the penalty fit the heinousness of the crime should have priority over the expansion/contraction issue.

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Kent--You and I both know how skewed and bizarre the "non-triggerman" rule is. We need look no further than the Clarence Ray Allen case in California, in which Allen used a hitman to murder witnesses who testified against him in his first murder trial. Allen, of course, was already serving a life sentence for murder when he perpetrated this successful conspiracy. The Ninth Circuit opinion found that if there was to be a death penalty, it was for murderers like Allen. I notice that the California Comm'n on the Fair Administration of Justice has considered recommending a "non-triggerman" rule for California (ironically, Allen is a California case).

This type of rule is comparable to exempting tyrants such as Hitler and Stalin from the death penalty (indeed, many of the Nuremberg defendants who were executed).

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