By Jerry Markon
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 20, 2009
The killer of a Winchester police officer whose case became a flash point in the debate over Gov. Timothy M. Kaine's views on the death penalty was executed last night by lethal injection after Kaine declined to intervene.
Edward N. Bell was strapped to a gurney, administered a sequence of three drugs and pronounced dead at the Greensville Correctional Center in Jarratt at 9:11 p.m., said Larry Traylor, a spokesman for the Virginia Department of Corrections. Bell, 44, was convicted in the 1999 killing of Sgt. Ricky L. Timbrook, who was shot while chasing a probation violator.
Although capital punishment has been the subject of long-standing debate in Virginia, the case had particular resonance for Kaine (D), a Catholic who personally opposes the death penalty but has said he will enforce the law. Timbrook's widow, Kelly, denounced Kaine's views in an emotional television ad during the 2005 gubernatorial campaign.
"How could you not think the death penalty was appropriate?" Timbrook, who was pregnant when her husband was slain, said in the ad made for Kaine's Republican opponent, Jerry W. Kilgore. "When Tim Kaine calls the death penalty murder, I find it offensive.''
The ad, one of two Kilgore spots that featured the family members of murdered Virginians, helped spark a broader debate about Kaine's views in a state where voters have traditionally supported capital punishment.
But since he took office in 2006, Kaine has allowed nine executions and commuted one sentence. Yesterday, the governor said he had denied Bell's petition for clemency. "I find no compelling reason to set aside the sentence that was recommended by the jury, and then imposed and affirmed by the courts," Kaine said in a statement that did not mention Timbrook's appearance in the ad.
Because Bell's attorneys did not seek a last-minute stay of execution from the U.S. Supreme Court, Kaine's action cleared the way for Bell to be put to death.
Timbrook family members witnessed the execution, and Bell addressed them in his final words, Traylor said. He quoted Bell as saying: "To the Timbrook family, you definitely have the wrong person. The truth will come out one day.''
Timbrook, who gave birth to a son two months after her husband was killed, could not be reached. A phone number for her was disconnected.
An attorney for Bell, James G. Connell III, said Bell should have been spared because his trial lawyers failed to present positive "mitigating" evidence about his life that could have swayed the jury. "Eddie Bell was executed even though the federal court and the trial prosecutor agreed that his lawyers utterly failed him," Connell said. "If anyone believes that the system will catch and correct errors in capital cases, Bell's death should shake their confidence in the fairness and consistency of the death penalty."
Bell, a native of Jamaica, had maintained his innocence in the death of Timbrook, 32, who was shot once in the head. Since his death, the Winchester community has named a public safety building, a park and a children's outreach program in Timbrook's honor.
A Winchester jury found Bell guilty of capital murder in 2001. After his appeals were denied, the U.S. Supreme Court briefly took up the case last year but dismissed it.
Bell was the 103rd inmate executed in Virginia's death chamber since the Supreme Court reinstated capital punishment in 1976. The state is second only to Texas, which has executed 431 people.