Former Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine’s last-minute attempt to return an imprisoned murderer to his native Germany, where he likely would have been freed in two years, is threatening to emerge as a key early issue in one of the most anticipated U.S. Senate races next year.
National Republicans are in hot pursuit of records from Mr. Kaine’s last year as governor that they say could shed light on why he tried to return Jens Soering to Germany instead of allowing him to serve a life sentence in a U.S. prison. The former University of Virginia student is serving two life terms for killing his girlfriend’s parents in 1985.
“There are over 11,000 criminals currently housed in the Virginia state penal system,” said Brian Walsh, a spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee. “We’re simply seeking to understand why one of them, and particularly a convicted double-murderer, was singled out for leniency by Tim Kaine, because his explanation … does not add up.”
The decision has become something of a political nuisance for Mr. Kaine, a Democrat who quietly signed Soering’s release just days before leaving office in January 2010, only to have it reversed by Gov. Robert F. McDonnell, a Republican.
He offered the Associated Press a second reason earlier this month: At the time, he didn’t anticipate running for office again.
The explanations aren’t quieting the GOP, which has George Allen and his tough-on-crime reputation on its side. Mr. Allen, who also has announced a bid for the Senate seat of retiring Sen. Jim Webb, a Democrat, is widely expected to win the Republican nomination. Mr. Allen overhauled Virginia’s criminal justice system while serving as governor in the 1990s, though he is perhaps best known for abolishing parole.
At one point, Mr. Kaine put all state executions on hold for 15 days while the U.S. Supreme Court considered a challenge to the constitutionality of lethal injections. He lifted the moratorium after the court upheld the method of execution.
Placing the issue solidly onto the political battlefield, the Virginia Republican Party last week sarcastically sent a records release form for him to sign.
“All Tim Kaine has to do is sign it, put it in the mail and Virginians will be able to learn much more about just how and why Kaine decided to let a man convicted of killing two people in cold blood return to his home country for possible early release,” the document states.
If he has nothing to hide, Mr. Kaine should release the documents, said Garren Shipley, a spokesman for the state Republican Party.
“We’re really anxious to see Gov. Kaine follow through on his commitment to openness,” Mr. Shipley said. “The former governor has the ability to release pretty much whatever he wants to out of his archive.”