- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 25, 2006

RICHMOND — Gov. Timothy M. Kaine, a Catholic who last year vowed to uphold the state’s capital punishment law despite his religious beliefs, is expected to decide by tomorrow night whether to commute the death sentence of convicted murderer Dexter Lee Vinson.

It is the first death-penalty case Mr. Kaine, a Democrat, will consider since taking office in January. The death penalty became a major issue during last year’s gubernatorial race, when Republican Jerry W. Kilgore criticized Mr. Kaine’s opposition to the death penalty. In turn, Mr. Kaine vowed that he would uphold Virginia’s capital punishment law, despite the teachings of his faith.

Kevin Hall, a spokesman for Mr. Kaine, said the governor is “pondering it.”

“He’ll make his decision when he makes his decision,” Mr. Hall said.

Vinson is scheduled to die by lethal injection at 9 p.m. tomorrow in Jarratt, Va., for the 1997 murder of his ex-girlfriend, Angela Felton, of Portsmouth. A 25-year-old mother of three, Miss Felton was abducted and taken to an abandoned house, where she was stabbed and sexually mutilated. She bled to death.

Vinson denied he had anything to do with the slaying. Court papers show that forensic evidence linked Vinson to the crime.

As of last night, Vinson’s defense attorneys had two appeals pending in federal court.

Robert E. Lee Jr., an attorney representing Vinson, said that the politics surrounding the death penalty have shrouded the shortcomings in his client’s case, which has been appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

“From a media standpoint, the merits of the court case has been lost,” said Mr. Lee, who also serves as executive director of the Virginia Capital Representation Resource Center.

Last year, Mr. Kilgore, who was running for governor, criticized Mr. Kaine’s opposition to the death penalty as being out of step with the beliefs of most Virginians. But Mr. Kaine pledged to uphold the state’s capital punishment law.

“My faith teaches that life is sacred,” Mr. Kaine said in television ads that aired last fall. “That’s why I personally oppose the death penalty. But I take my oath of office seriously, and I’ll enforce the death penalty. As governor, I’ll carry out death sentences handed down by Virginia juries, because that’s the law.”

Since Mr. Kaine took over as the state’s chief executive, the death-penalty issue has been overshadowed by the ongoing state budget dispute at the state Capitol.

But, the debate over capital punishment will take center stage in Richmond tomorrow.

“[Mr. Kaine will] comment on it at the appropriate time,” Mr. Hall said. “Typically, governors have waited until all the court activity is completed, which typically takes you to the day of [the execution].”

Miss Felton’s family could not be reached for comment yesterday. Vinson rejected an interview request from The Washington Times.

Vinson’s attorneys argue that their client’s trial was riddled with holes, including false eyewitness testimony and that evidence was withheld from the trial. The attorneys also argue that during that trial, one of Vinson’s attorneys was suing the other for racial discrimination.

“There is too much doubt about his guilt in order to go forward with his execution,” Mr. Lee said.

Mr. Lee said a second appeal will be filed today in U.S. Supreme Court, challenging the constitutionality of the state’s lethal-injection procedure.

“It’s not that [lethal injection] is unconstitutional,” Mr. Lee said.

“However, if you are going to do that, then you have to take certain precautions to minimize the risk that you are going to fail to properly anesthetize someone … that they are not going to regain consciousness.”

Also today, the Supreme Court is scheduled to hear a similar case involving a Florida inmate whose appeal could clarify how inmates may bring deadline challenges to the use of lethal injection and whether his challenge can be filed as a civil rights action, the Associated Press reported yesterday.

The AP reported that the high court’s ruling could decide whether the Florida inmate, Clarence Hill, will be executed this summer or whether he will be allowed to challenge Florida’s use of lethal injection as cruel and unusual punishment — a ruling that could halt executions in Florida and perhaps elsewhere, at least temporarily.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide