- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 12, 2008

Lawrence T. Vaughan says Kevin Green should die. And a Virginia jury agreed.

Green fatally shot Mr. Vaughan’s wife in 1998 as he robbed the couple’s convenience store.

But Green, 30, and three other killers scheduled for execution were granted a reprieve this month by Gov. Tim Kaine until the Supreme Court decides whether lethal injection is “cruel and unusual punishment” — and therefore unconstitutional.

Politicians and victims’ families say Mr. Kaine acted prematurely because the Supreme Court had not yet ruled on the condemned prisoners’ final appeals and because Virginia still authorizes the use of the electric chair.

“It is a backdoor way to at least temporarily get rid of the death penalty,” said Sen. Kenneth Thomas Cuccinelli, Fairfax Republican. “When you do stuff like this, you really knock off the effect of the death penalty. He is undercutting the value of it to Virginia.”

Mr. Vaughan, who was shot twice during the robbery that netted $9,000 from the Brunswick County store he and his wife ran for 18 years, said Green should die as scheduled and not wait for the high court’s decision, which is expected in July.

“My wife was already dead and he turned around and shot her two more times,” Mr. Vaughan, 68, said. “I think if you kill someone else you should get the same punishment.”

Mr. Kaine defended his decision to impose the temporary moratorium against critics who say it was unnecessary because the state offers those on death row a choice between lethal injection and electrocution.

“None of the upcoming people has chosen the electric chair, and the law says the default method is lethal injection,” Mr. Kaine, a Democrat, said through his spokesman, Gordon Hickey.

However, Virginia Department of Corrections spokesman Larry M. Traylor said the prisoner is not obligated to choose a method until 15 days from the execution date. Three of the prisoners had not reached the 15-day window, and the fourth declined to choose.

Virginia Attorney General Bob McDonnell said that was why he objected to the governor’s moratorium.

“Other death-row inmates affected by the governor’s actions have yet to select a method of execution as Virginia law provides, and only lethal injection cases are at issue in the [Supreme Court] case,” said Mr. McDonnell, a Republican widely expected to run for governor next year.

Mr. Kaine, who opposes the death penalty, pledged to uphold the law during his campaign for governor. He has carried out four executions since taking office in January 2006. Before the blanket moratorium, Mr. Kaine blocked two executions.

His Republican rival for governor in 2005 ran television ads attacking Mr. Kaine’s death penalty stance, claiming he would oppose the practice even for Adolf Hitler. Another ad featured the widow of Winchester police Sgt. Rick Timbrook, who was fatally shot by Edward Nathaniel Bell nine years ago.

“I don’t trust Tim Kaine to uphold that law,” said Kelly Timbrook.

Bell, 42, was among those who received a reprieve on April 8.

Bell fatally shot Sgt. Timbrook, 32, in the forehead during a foot chase. The police officer’s son was born two months later.

“I cannot feel sorry for Edward Bell whatsoever, and I am fighting for his death,” said Sgt. Timbrook’s father, Richard Timbrook. “Maybe this sounds cold, but there are some people who do not deserve to live.”

Mr. Cuccinelli, a Fairfax Republican who is running for state attorney general, also said it was customary for a governor to wait until all legal appeals are exhausted before issuing a stay of execution.

“If the governor is using the Supreme Court as an excuse to delay the execution, that is a straw-man argument, given the Supreme Court’s ability to rule on the execution of Bell even if Kaine took no action,” he said.

The Supreme Court has granted a stay of execution in every case since the justices agreed in September to hear the lethal injection case. The court in October issued a stay on the execution of Christopher Scott Emmett, convicted of robbing and killing his co-worker, John Langley, in Danville, Va., in 2001.

Delegate Adam P. Ebbin said the governor was showing “respect for the Supreme Court’s review process.”

“It seems like a prudent and reasonable step to postpone these particular executions until we know the Supreme Court has acted,” said Mr. Ebbin, Arlington Democrat. “The governor has indicated time and again he will enforce the death penalty when it has been sentenced, but in these cases there is some doubt into what is the permissible method of execution.”

Virginia has executed 98 criminals since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976 — more than any state but Texas, which has executed 405. Since 1995, when Virginia began offering lethal injection as a humane alternative to electrocution, 70 inmates have been executed using the three drug “cocktail” the Supreme Court is considering.

In January, the high court heard a case brought by two Kentucky death row inmates who argued that the toxic cocktail used by 36 states causes unnecessary pain and suffering.

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