AUGUST 06, 2009
Virginia’s Democratic governor has ignited public outrage by pardoning—at the request of a major political donor—three men convicted of raping and killing a teenager.
Gov. Tim Kaine ordered freedom for three of four former sailors who raped and murdered another sailor’s 18-year-old wife in 1997. The men had all confessed to the gruesome crimes and were serving life sentences before the good governor came to their rescue this week.
Kaine said he decided there are “serious doubts about at least the level of their complicity in the crime,” though the governor did find that the “combined weight of all the evidence in this case does not conclusively exonerate the petitioners from any possibility of involvement in the rape and murder…” Any involvement, according to Kaine, was of a significantly lesser magnitude than that of the primary perpetrator.
In his public statement announcing the pardons the governor failed to mention that a powerful political donor, who happens to be a famous novelist writing a screenplay about the case, has long fought for the men’s release. John Grisham, known for publishing legal thrillers that regularly become Hollywood films, assures the convicted felons are innocent and so does his public policy group (Innocence Project), which is dedicated to exonerating wrongfully convicted people.
Since 2000 Grisham has donated nearly $400,000 to Virginia Democrats, about half of it to Kaine and his political action committee. Perhaps the acclaimed author also offered Kaine a key role, as the hero who saved the wrongfully imprisoned sailors, in the upcoming Hollywood flick.
The victim’s outraged and demoralized parents point out that Grisham’s wealth and influence are obviously more important to the governor’s political aspirations than truth or justice. It’s probably no consolation that the governor assured the pardon is not a “conclusive ruling of innocence” but rather an adjustment that makes the sentence more appropriate given the “doubts that surround" the sailors’ involvement.
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