Jerry Kilgore, the Republican candidate for governor of Virginia, just held a conference call to discuss Tim Kaine's record of opposition to the death penalty, particularly his defense of Mark Sheppard, who was eventually executed for a double murder. Joining Kilgore on the line was Stanley Rosenbluth, president of Virginians United Against Crime, whose son and daughter in law were murdered by Sheppard. Needless to say, this is a personal issue to Rosenbluth.
Kilgore argued that Kaine's defense of Sheppard was part of his "lifetime of activism" against the death penalty. "If Tim Kaine had been successful, Mark Sheppard wouldn't have been put to death. Everyone is entitled to representation, but not every activist defense attorney is entitled to be the governor of
Warren Fiske of the Virginian-Pilot asked rhetorically, "Was not this man entitled to a vigorous defense?" Kilgore said he was, but maintained that Kaine's defense of Sheppard cannot be separated from his overall opposition to the death penalty. "I draw the line where you take it from the courtroom to the public policy arena." Bob Lewis of the Associated Press tried to argue that the Commonwealth was to blame for Kaine's defense of Sheppard because it has underfunded public defenders, but the question fell flat.
TAS caught up with Kilgore spokesman Tucker Martin after the call, who noted that Kaine's defense of Sheppard extended to the appeals process, where in Sheppard v. Early Kaine argued that part of a Virginia death penalty statute was unconstitutional. Kaine said that the Virginia statute requiring that the Commonwealth set an execution date within 60 to 70 days of the federal appeals court denying habeas corpus violates the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment. In a unanimous decision, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the argument and affirmed the lower court's dismissal of Sheppard's action.
This won't play well for Kaine in Virginia's heartland (i.e., not Northern Virginia). Add this to Kaine's increasing desperation (as Chad Dotson argues) and his campaign's strange insistence on touting Kaine's support for last year's tax increase (code phrase: fiscal responsibility), and you have a candidate who has little chance of winning over the folks who delivered the Governor's Mansion to Mark Warner in 2001: conservatives willing to vote Democratic now and then.