Democratic vice presidential candidate Tim Kaine is receiving criticism from Republicans for defending criminals while he worked as an attorney. An attack ad recently released by the GOP entitled “America Deserves Better” runs through all of the cases in which Kaine has defended rapists and murders, and it seems to imply that he sympathized with them.
Tim Kaine graduated from Harvard Law School in 1983, being admitted into the Virginia Bar the following year. He spent the next 17 years practicing law in Richmond, regularly dealing with cases of people who were experiencing racial discrimination. He worked on many cases over the years, often doing pro bono work. But the GOP’s latest attack ad targets four criminal cases in particular.
What has been Tim Kaine’s legal career, and what’s the story behind these four people he defended? Here’s what you need to know.
1. He Represented Convicted Murderer Lem Tuggle
The first man pointed out in the Republican attack ad is Lem Tuggle, who was convicted of murder and who was believed to have raped and shot Jessie Havens after meeting her at a dance. Before that, Tuggle had served 10 years for murdering a 17-year-old girl.
Tuggle was denied clemency by the state’s governor and then by the U.S. Supreme Court, according to The Washington Post.
Kaine argued against Tuggle receiving the death sentence, objecting to the fact that a prosecution psychiatrist, not an independent psychiatrist, told the jury that Tuggle would be a danger to society if he was allowed to stay alive. Virginia’s appeals court felt that the jury would not have decided any differently if they had heard from an independent psychiatrist, The Washington Post reported.
Ultimately, Tuggle was executed in December 1996.
2. He Represented Convicted Murderer Richard Lee Whitley
Another case pointed out in the attack ad is that of Richard Lee Whitley, a convicted murderer believed to have choked his 63-year-old neighbor to death in June 1980. He was arrested a few months after the murder took place and confessed to having done it. Kaine, Whitley’s attorney, fought against the death penalty, but neither the United States Court of Appeals nor the Fourth Circuit would block the execution, and Whitley was executed in July 1987.
One of Tim Kaine’s colleagues told The New York Times that it was important to Kaine that he be there to defend and sympathize with those who no one else would.
“I’m certain that Tim felt very close to [Whitley],” Tim Kaine’s law partner Tom Wolf told the Times. “It was important to him to let Richard know that he was there for him, no matter what, and that he wasn’t just filing papers for him, but that he regarded Richard as a valuable human being.”
Kaine recalled in a 2016 speech that he was there for Whitley’s last meal.
“If nothing else, I wanted my client to know that I did all I could and never gave up on him,” Kaine said, according to The Daily Beast. “He hadn’t experienced that very much from the people in his life.”
Kaine also said at the time that while Whitley’s crime was terrible, when the man does, something will die inside Kaine too, according to the Richmond Times.
3. He Commuted the Sentence of Percy Walton
Next is Percy Walton, who was convicted for three murders in 1997. He was sentenced to death in Danville, Virginia.
Tim Kaine was governor of Virginia at this time, and just before Walton was to be executed, Kaine ordered a mental health examination, not believing Walton to be mentally fit for execution, according to The Washington Post. The execution was delayed for six months because of this.
Seeing as Walton was schizophrenic and had an IQ of 66, Kaine said that “one cannot reasonably conclude that Walton is fully aware of the punishment he is about to suffer and why is it to suffer it.”
Kaine commuted Walton, and the man is currently serving life in prison.
4. He Tried to Extradite Jens Soering to Germany
The final case brought up in the attack ad is Jens Soering, a German citizen convicted of two counts of murder. While he was governor, Tim Kaine decided to extradite Soering to Germany, where it would be possible for him to receive parole. But Kaine’s successor, Governor Bob McDonnell, blocked this decision, and so Soering remains at the Buckingham Correctional Center in Virginia to this day.
Kaine has been criticized for this move, but he says he did not think that Virginians should be the one to pay for Soering’s incarceration.
“He is not a sympathetic character, that’s true,” Kaine said in 2011, according to The Daily Beast. “I would never grant him clemency. But I did feel like Virginians have paid for his incarceration for a very long time. Let the Germans pay to keep this guy.”
5. He Has a Moral Objection to the Death Penalty
Kaine, a Catholic, has passionately argued against criminals being put to death, and part of that is because he has an objection to the death penalty and believes it to be morally wrong.
“Murder is wrong in the gulag, in Afghanistan, in Soweto, in the mountains of Guatemala, in Fairfax County,” Kaine once said, according to The New York Times. “And even the Spring Street Penitentiary.”
He did, however, vow to carry out death sentences handed down from Virginia juries when he became the state’s governor.
And while it’s true that Tim Kaine has defended rapists and murderers throughout his career, as argued in an article on Red State, even the worst of criminals is entitled to legal representation.
“It is a noble profession,” the Red State piece states. “Never forget that John Adams defended the men accused in the Boston Massacre, out of a desire to show that the colonies had a functioning judicial system.”