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Virginia Primary

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Virginia is the exemplar state for an effective death penalty. Five years from sentence to execution is not unusual there. Yet the state has an anomalously anti-DP governor. Not for long. The state holds its gubernatorial elections in truly odd years, and come January the governor will be either Creigh Deeds, who swamped his rivals in yesterday's primary, or former AG Bob McConnell. Deeds was regarded as the more moderate of the Democratic candidates. See Chris "The Fix" Cillizza's blog in the WaPo. Most importantly for the topic of this blog, Deeds favors the death penalty, and he favors removal of the nonsensical "triggerman" clause in the law. (Under that clause, if the leader of a conspiracy orders a follower to pull the trigger, the follower can get the death penalty but not the leader, with a few exceptions.) The present governor has repeatedly vetoed legislation to straighten that out.

Bad weather may have contributed to Deeds' win. Voting is a civic duty, but fewer people do their duty when the weather is bad. The dropoff is less among people with a strong sense of individual responsibility and hence favors the relatively conservative candidate.

Now, will the present governor emulate convicted felon George Ryan and commute the sentences of the murderers presently on death row on his way out the door? Let's hope not.

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Why the speculation about Governor Kaine? Despite his vetoes, Kaine has sent no less than nine convicted murderers to their deaths. He's commuted only one sentence--that of Percy Walton (whose death sentence the normally very pro-prosecution Fourth Circuit upheld by the unusually close vote of seven to six). Over the past four years, hasn't Kaine proven that he can uphold the law notwithstanding his personal beliefs?

Governors sometimes do strange things on their way out the door. Ryan held hearings on individual cases, implying he would consider commutation case-by-case, but then he dashed the victims' families' hopes with his mass commutation. I won't be sure until Gov. Kaine is ex-Gov. Kaine.

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