A newly discovered connection between U.S. Senate candidate Tim Kaine and convicted double murderer Jens Soering has prompted renewed attacks by Republicans on an issue over which the Democratic former governor has long been perceived as vulnerable.
Virginia Attorney General Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II on Friday made public an affidavit from Mr. Kaine that was used by Soering in his efforts to fight extradition to the United States in 1988, questioning why the Kaine administration had never disclosed the document in the highly publicized case.
The controversy stems from an action Mr. Kaine took in his final days in office in early 2010, when the governor sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Justice requesting that Soering, who brutally murdered the parents of his then-girlfriend Elizabeth Haysom in Bedford County in 1985, be transferred to his home country of Germany.
Part of his reasoning, Mr. Kaine has said, was that he felt Germany should be paying for the incarceration, rather than Virginia taxpayers. But the move also would have made Soering eligible for release after two years. Gov. Bob McDonnell, a Republican, immediately rescinded the request upon taking office.
Richmond Circuit Court Judge Beverly W. Snukals last week dismissed a lawsuit against Mr. McDonnell that challenged his authority, as governor, to reverse Mr. Kaine’s action. The Kaine affidavit emerged in the course of that lawsuit and was made public Friday by Mr. Cuccinelli.
Mr. Kaine’s camp immediately said there was no connection between the affidavit and the Soering case and that the evidence was plucked by Soering’s attorneys from an unrelated hearing after it became public record.
“Governor Kaine wrote this affidavit as an expert witness in a completely separate case that had nothing to do with Jen Soering,” spokeswoman Brandi Hoffine said in an email. “Not once does it mention Jen Soering, nor does it deal with the specific circumstances of the Soering case.”
Mr. Kaine was an expert witness in the case of capital inmate Joseph Giarrantano, whose death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment by former Gov. L. Douglas Wilder, a Democrat. When he was governor, Mr. Kaine denied a request for release for time served from Mr. Giarrantano.
“If that was the case, why didn’t he address that when he was doing the transfer?” Mr. Cuccinelli said. “Surely, he had to, at that time, know about his role earlier on in the case in 1988. If not, they didn’t even review their own documents prior to the transfer.”
Republicans have expressed skepticism about Mr. Kaine’s reasons for pursuing Soering’s transfer and have publicly asked Mr. Kaine to release documents from his administration that are sealed at the Library of Virginia relating to the decision. The library has said it is not clear whether Mr. Kaine is authorized to release sealed papers.
The GOP maintains that in a tight Senate race against Republican former Gov. George Allen, Mr. Kaine risks appearing soft on the issue, especially after comparing the number of pardons issued by the two former governors. Mr. Kaine granted 130 pardons during his four-year term as governor, compared with 15 for Mr. Allen. Mr. Allen overhauled Virginia’s criminal justice system while serving as governor in the 1990s, though he is perhaps best known for abolishing parole.
Ms. Hoffine countered that the rate of violent crime in Virginia decreased dramatically compared to other states during the Kaine administration and dismissed the GOP rhetoric as mere political gamesmanship.
“We’ll leave it to the Allen campaign and the attorney general to use state government resources to play politics in the Virginia Senate election,” she said. “Governor Kaine is focused on working together with Virginians to strengthen our economy and create jobs.”
Steven Rosenfield, an attorney for Soering, did not respond to a request for comment, but Mr. Cuccinelli said it was his understanding that the case would be appealed to the state Supreme Court — virtually ensuring it will stay in the headlines in the coming months.
“It does not appear that this is over,” Mr. Cuccinelli said.
Soering and Haysom fled the country after the murders, and later were caught in England and returned to the United States. Soering, a former University of Virginia student, confessed to the crime to protect Haysom from the death penalty, mistakenly thinking that his father’s status as a German diplomat would protect him. He is serving two life sentences, and she is serving a 90-year sentence as an accessory to murder.
Mr. Kaine had rejected a deal from German officials earlier in his tenure as governor that would have transferred Soering back to Germany because there was no guarantee of incarceration. The deal they later struck would have kept Soering behind bars for at least two years and would have prevented him from ever entering the U.S. again.
Despite the political back-and-forth and the emotion in the Bedford area and across the state the case has generated, Mark J. Rozell, a professor of public policy at George Mason University, said it was unlikely that it would have a significant impact on the race.
“Clearly, the drivers in this race will be perceptions of the state of the economy,” he said. “I’m not saying the issue is irrelevant. Particularly where it’s a local issue, it will have an impact, without a doubt. But overall, nothing is going to overshadow [the economy].”
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David Sherfinski covers politics for The Washington Times. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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