BY FRANK GREEN
Singular circumstances and future political aspirations may make a condemned man's clemency plea to Gov. Mark R. Warner the toughest to have crossed his desk. The lame-duck governor has let the execution of 11 men proceed since taking office in 2002. But Robin Lovitt's case stands apart. State officials deliberately destroyed evidence that Lovitt's lawyers claim might save his life. Warner must decide what, if anything, should be done about it. He could grant a full pardon, an outcome viewed unlikely even by Lovitt supporters. Or he could commute the death sentence to life with or without the possibility of parole. Or, if past is prologue, Lovitt will die by injection Nov. 30.
The state lost some evidence so there are some good questions to be asked in this case.
Therefore it is now in the lap of Warner, who is widely touted as a possible Democratic candidate for president in 2008. The Lovitt case has drawn national attention because of the peculiar development and because of a dubious distinction: Lovitt could be the 1,000th person executed in the U.S. since the death penalty was allowed to resume in 1976. Lovitt's lawyers contend that new DNA testing techniques not available when Lovitt was prosecuted...
Sabato gives his two cents about the politics that are in play.
- Larry J. Sabato, a University of Virginia political analyst, said: "Naturally, we'd all like to think a governor would make this decision purely on the facts, not with political considerations in mind. "He added: "I have no evidence at all that Warner would do anything other than that. "But, he said, having permitted other executions to proceed, Warner could probably escape political harm with one commutation, should he grant it. He would be criticized by some who would argue that Lovitt is guilty and is simply getting off on a technicality. However, Sabato said, "Democrats, unlike the general population, are tilted against the death penalty, especially the liberal activists who will show up in droves in Iowa and New Hampshire in 2008. "Warner, said Sabato, "could earn points with them by issuing a pardon or commutation."
Earn points indeed. This is not a dilemma. It seems Mark L. Earley,who was Virginia's Republican attorney general from 1998 to 2001 is on record with this
- "I think it's just morally unfair to this guy when the evidence was by all accounts clearly destroyed contrary to [state law], and it has clearly prejudiced him," said Earley.
The destruction of the evidence, he said, " just presents a highly prejudicial cloud over the case." Earley warned that, "if you impose the death penalty in this case, quite frankly, you undermine the credibility of the death penalty."
This sounds like a win-win for Warner. The question is what base he wants to appeal to. It should be interesting for the next few days.