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Posted April 17, 2008 | Copyright © The Northern Virginia Daily
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Political boost cited as governor’s fast action hailed

By Garren Shipley -- Daily Staff Writer

WINCHESTER — Local Republican legislators who had castigated Democratic Gov. Timothy M. Kaine’s decision to temporarily stop executions in Virginia welcomed his rapid move to lift the ban on Wednesday.

Kaine had stopped all executions in Virginia as of April 1 — starting with that of Edward N. Bell, who was convicted of killing a Winchester police officer — in anticipation of the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Baze v. Rees.

Two Kentucky inmates unsuccessfully sought to have that state’s lethal injection protocols overturned as unconstitutional.

“It’s wonderful that he did it so quickly,” said Sen. Jill Holtzman Vogel, R-Upperville.

“The governor made a commitment in the first place not to change our execution laws,” she said, a commitment that he violated by enacting the temporary ban in the first place.

“I’m surprised he did it so quickly,” she said, which “tells you politically how it was going to play.”

Virginia legislators should take a long hard look at the decision in Baze and, if warranted, make changes to bring Virginia into compliance with the ruling, she added.

“This is really, really serious. How we carry out justice in Virginia is probably one of the most important issues that we deal with,” she said.

Virginia already uses a drug protocol similar to Kentucky’s, but the legislature should also ensure that that the rest of the commonwealth’s procedures are on the same page, Holtzman Vogel added.

“These are the kinds of things that legislatures decide. It would be in our interest to have a discussion about this so that it is not left up to the courts to decide,” she said.

Del. Clifford L. “Clay” Athey, R-Front Royal, said he agreed.

“Every time a U.S. Supreme court case comes out with this sort of import, we will take a look at it and be sure that [Virginia’s] death penalty statutes” are in line.

Some states might go as far as copying Kentucky’s newly blessed protocols completely, Athey added.

But that might not be a job for the legislature, said Del. Todd Gilbert, R-Woodstock.

Actual procedures in the commonwealth are set by the Department of Corrections, and “it sounds to me like [the Kentucky protocol] is something the Department of Corrections can quickly replicate,” Gilbert said.

“I don’t see a reason there should be any further delay if they know what the rules are,” he said. “[The Department] should and could bring themselves into compliance with whatever scheme the U.S. Su-preme Court has set out.”

Both the department and the office of Republican Attorney General Bob McDonnell declined to comment on whether any changes should be made to the state’s protocols in light of Baze, citing pending death penalty litigation.

* Contact Garren Shipley at gshipley@nvdaily.com

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