Lem Tuggle and Richard Lee Whitley are long dead, executed by Virginia years ago. But Attorney General Jerry W. Kilgore, the likely Republican nominee for governor, is planning to resurrect them next year as symbols of his rival's opposition to the death penalty.
Tuggle raped, sodomized and shot a woman while on parole after killing a 17-year-old girl. Whitley cut the throat of his Fairfax County neighbor and then brutally sexually assaulted her.
Kaine says he was morally obligated to represent the death row inmates.
The death row lawyer for both men was a young Timothy M. Kaine, now the state's Democratic lieutenant governor and his party's likely nominee next year to succeed Gov. Mark R. Warner (D).
Kilgore has begun invoking Tuggle's and Whitley's names in speeches as part of what his campaign says will be an effort to make the death penalty a defining issue in the 2005 race.
Carrie Cantrell, Kilgore's campaign spokeswoman, said Kaine "stands alone" among Virginia candidates for governor in opposing capital punishment.
"Tim Kaine is the only person to run for the governor's office since 1976 who has been opposed to the death penalty," she said.
Kilgore's campaign is betting that Kaine's background as a defense attorney and strong feelings about the Washington-area snipers and other cases will make the death penalty a compelling issue in a way that it hasn't been for years. This month, Kilgore proposed the Death Penalty Enhancement Act, which would expand the number of crimes eligible for the punishment.
Kaine is hoping to defuse the issue by promising voters that he will uphold and enforce the state's capital punishment laws regardless of his personal views, which he says are based on deeply held religious beliefs about the sanctity of life.
In a recent opinion article, Kaine wrote: "As governor, I will enforce capital sentences just as other governors have done. My personal feelings have never and will never interfere with my sworn duty to the citizens of Virginia."
Kaine's campaign officials said that every time Kilgore discusses the death penalty, they will shift the conversation to Kaine's support of strict crime policies as Richmond's mayor and to Kilgore's opposition to the state's 2004 budget deal, which included money for police and firefighters.
"Tim's never apologized for his faith-based, moral opposition to the death penalty," spokesman Mo Elleithee said. "These two cases were court-appointed cases, and he felt a moral obligation under the code of legal ethics to provide them with a defense."
Elleithee also vows to hit back at Kilgore. He accused the attorney general of once defending a hospital executive who embezzled money and of being the lawyer for a state worker who falsified safety inspection reports for mines.
"He's represented some very shady characters during his years as an attorney," Elleithee said.
National advocates for and against the death penalty said Kaine is trying to walk a fine line common among many politicians who oppose capital punishment.