- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 27, 2006

RICHMOND — Anti-crime proposals will be plentiful during an election-year General Assembly session that begins Jan. 10.

With all 140 seats up for election in November, lawmakers will consider measures to expand Virginia’s capital murder statute and get tough on sex offenders — including Internet predators.

Other tough-on-crime measures are sure to materialize before the Jan. 19 bill-filing deadline.

Lawmakers continue to find new reasons to execute killers in Virginia, which ranks behind only Texas in the number of executions since the U.S. Supreme Court revived capital punishment in 1976.

Bills to be considered in the 2007 session would allow the death penalty for:

• Killing a justice or judge if the crime is related to the victim’s official duties.

• Murdering an informant or witness in a criminal case.

• Accomplices who share a murderer’s intent to kill but don’t directly inflict the fatal wound.

Virginia law already lists 14 “aggravating circumstances” that can elevate a murder charge to capital murder. Adding more is unnecessary, said Jack Payden-Travers, executive director of Virginians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty.

“In a sense, it’s almost grandstanding — trying to play to the media with a tough-on-crime attitude that really isn’t tough on crime; it’s almost stupid on crime,” he said. “This is not adding to public safety.”

Mr. Payden-Travers said the broader the scope of the capital murder statute, the more avenues there are for appeals that could strike it down. But that risk doesn’t deter lawmakers who are well aware of the broad public support for capital punishment, he said.

“This is just part of what you face every time there’s an election,” he said.

However, Delegate Robert Hurt, Pittsylvania Republican, noted that the capital murder proposals actually were introduced in the 2006 session.

Recent practice has been to refer all such bills to the Virginia State Crime Commission for a year of study.

“Public safety and getting tough on crime is a popular subject among legislators because one of the top priorities of government is to protect people in their homes and communities from criminals,” Mr. Hurt said. “It seems a natural subject at any time.”

He said he introduced the bill dealing with killing judges at the request of the Virginia Supreme Court.

“Everyone agrees that when you murder a judge because he or she is a judge, it strikes at the heart of the judicial system,” Mr. Hurt said. “It seems to make sense that an enhanced penalty or automatic option for the death penalty should be available to the commonwealth’s attorney.”

He also will sponsor many of the bills recommended by Attorney General Bob McDonnell’s Youth Internet Safety Task Force.

The recommendations include tougher sentences for online predators and measures to help police more efficiently investigate Internet crimes.

The assembly also will consider legislation that would require convicted sex offenders to get court permission before entering school or day care center property, as well as measures intended to protect nursing home and assisted-living facility residents from sex offenders.

Police and prosecutors aren’t the only ones who might get broader powers to deal with criminals. Legislators will consider a bill that would allow the use of deadly force against anyone who breaks into a home and physically threatens the occupant.

The measure would write into the Virginia code the common-law theory of self-defense.

Similar legislation cleared the House of Delegates last year, but was rejected by a Senate committee after a leading prosecutor warned that it amounted to “a license to kill.”

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