Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Clemency in Virginia

Virginia governor Mark Warner commuted the death sentence of convicted murderer Robin Lovitt on Tuesday; Lovitt will instead remain in prison for the rest of his life without the possibility of parole. Warner took the action based on the destruction of evidence in the case which Lovitt's attorneys argued might exonerate him, saying "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."

The law in Virginia states that all evidence must be retained until all appeals are exhausted; in this case, a court clerk discarded some forensic evidence which may have contained DNA. While DNA tests when Lovitt was originally convicted in 1999 were inconclusive, Lovitt's defense team argued that the latest technology might have been effective.

Prior to announcing his decision, Governor Warner said in a radio interview "No case has been more troubling. ... Rest assured, there's no case I've spent more time thinking about, praying about, reflecting on." He was urged to grant clemency by former Republican state attorney general Mark Earley (his '01 gubernatorial opponent), who said in a letter that it would be "morally unfair" to execute Lovitt under the circumstances.

I agree. I think Warner did the right thing; if the state is to carry out capital punishment, it must be done in such a way as to comply precisely will all relevant laws, which was not possible in this case.


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