I N D E X   P A G E S:
Accusations Backfire In Va. RaceBy Mike Allen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, October 11, 1997; Page C03
Democrat Donald S. Beyer Jr. now admits he was wrong when he said during a debate this week that his rival for Virginia governor, Republican James S. Gilmore III, had approved 35 plea agreements with accused child molesters when he was a suburban Richmond prosecutor.
In fact, Gilmore approved only nine written plea agreements. The others were cases in which prosecutors reached informal agreements or could have argued for tougher sentences. In an interview yesterday, Beyer attributed his error to "the adrenaline of the moment."
Such a rare correction in a race that has been marked in recent weeks by accusations that stretch the truth drew glee from Gilmore's camp, which has made Beyer's credibility its main point of attack in the final weeks before the Nov. 4 election.
"Don Beyer continues to be dishonest with the people of Virginia," Gilmore said. "He has been dishonest on education. And now he is being dishonest about the sensitive issue of crime victims."
Virginia Attorney General Richard Cullen, a Republican who has been an informal Gilmore adviser, said Beyer had "miscalculated terribly" by challenging Gilmore as soft on crime.
"It's preposterous, yet for those watching the debate, somebody might believe this," Cullen said.
Beyer said he brought up the cases only because he was offended by a Gilmore television ad that shows an empty swing set and uses ominous music in suggesting that Beyer's stand on parole could result in the kidnapping and murder of children.
Many of the sex cases Beyer cited involved incest. Gilmore said that by releasing the names of those charged, Beyer was offering a "road map" that could lead to the easy identification of the young victims.
Gilmore called on Beyer to apologize. Beyer, campaigning in McLean yesterday, refused and called the request "the dumbest thing I've ever heard."
The debate, held Monday in Richmond and moderated by former governor L. Douglas Wilder (D), was the first time Beyer had attacked Gilmore's record as commonwealth's attorney in Henrico County, a post the Republican held before becoming state attorney general in 1994.
"The only person on this stage who has ever let a convicted felon back out on the street is Jim Gilmore," Beyer said, turning to confront Gilmore.
"You know very well that child sex molesters are very dangerous. They get back out on the street, they molest more children, they destroy more families. What were you thinking, Jim, when you did those 35 plea agreements with child sex molesters?"
Gilmore did not have a specific response but instead explained plea agreements in general. "You know, sometimes you don't have the case," he said. "And if you don't have the case, sometimes it's better to get at least a conviction so that the person has a record, so that the next time they come back, they're going to be in serious trouble."
In the days after the debate, Gilmore lined up prosecutors in every area of the state to go before television cameras to make statements supporting him.
In an effort to get the last word, Beyer yesterday released summaries of six written plea agreements Gilmore's office had reached with drug dealers and three written plea agreements in rape cases.
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