Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Lowitt Case

To disclose where I stand on the issue of death penalty (with the exception of treason or terrorism), I would set a very high standard before someone could be given the ultimate irrevocable punishment. Especially given what happened in Illinois where Republican Gov. George Ryan commuted 150 death sentences. His reasoning over "Half of the nearly 300 capital cases in Illinois had been reversed for a new trial or re-sentencing. Now, how many of you people here today that are professionals can call your life a success if you're only 50 percent successful?"

I don't know if Virginia's justice department is inept as Illinois was previously.

To the case at hand, Gov. Warner was asked to commute the sentence to life in prison of Robin Lovitt. Mr. Lovitt was not able to use every option at his disposal in his post-trial defense due to destruction of evidence by a court employee. Lovitt would have been the 1,000th convict put to death since the Supreme Court reaffirms the punishment. Many speculated whether Warner would be politically motivated to deviate from his norm of not granting clemency.

On Tuesday, Warner did grant clemency to Lovitt. From the Governor's statement:

"I believe clemency should only be exercised in the most extraordinary circumstances. Among these are circumstances in which the normal and honored processes of our judicial system do not provide adequate relief - circumstances that, in fact, require executive intervention to reaffirm public confidence in our justice system.

"The Commonwealth is legally obligated to maintain physical evidence until a defendant has exhausted every legal post-trial remedy in the case. However, evidence in Mr. Lovitt's trial was destroyed by a court employee before that process could be completed. I believe the courts have correctly ruled that the law requiring the maintenance of such evidence does not provide relief for a defendant in Mr. Lovitt's circumstances. However, in this case, the actions of an agent of the Commonwealth, in a manner contrary to the express direction of the law, comes at the expense of a defendant facing society's most severe and final sanction. The Commonwealth must ensure that every time this ultimate sanction is carried out, it is done fairly. Read more.
The Washington Post has more:

"OUTGOING VIRGINIA Gov. Mark R. Warner (D) acted rightly and humanely yesterday in granting the clemency request of Robin M. Lovitt. Mr. Lovitt was scheduled today to become the 1,000th convict put to death in the modern era of capital punishment -- a dubious distinction that someone else will soon claim. Mr. Warner had never granted clemency before; there have been 11 executions during his four years in office. But the circumstances of Mr. Lovitt's case demanded action. The governor deserves credit for not letting his presidential ambitions keep him from responding appropriately to the facts." Read more:

To those who would suggest that somehow this makes him more palatable to the left wing of Democratic Party on the issue, I disagree. Warner was in a no-win situation.

Yes, I believe Gov. Warner did the right thing, not because it was an politically expedient option. More importantly, I think he did want he thought was best. Questions of life and death are no easy matter. Unlike Bush who mocked a death penalty inmate, from what I know of Warner he approached the issue with reverence and thoughtful consideration. While I am certainly not a one-issue voter, granting clemency is not an issue a President has to deal with anyway except in the cases of treason and terrorism.

To all those in the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party who loved Bill Clinton, he too supported the death penalty. Remember Clinton who was not going to be out "law and ordered" so much that he "even rushed back to Arkansas during the 1992 campaign to oversee the execution of a mentally-retarded inmate."

Even if I disagree with Warner on several issues, I don't see him as the type to grandstand on an issue he doesn't believe is right.


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