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No Death Penalty For Hitler? GOP Ad Goes Too Far

The Republican candidate for Virginia governor claims his opponent 'says that Adolf Hitler doesn't qualify for the death penalty.' But that's not what the Democrat said.


A TV ad for Jerry Kilgore, Republican candidate for governor of Virginia, says of his Democratic opponent: “Tim Kaine says that Adolf Hitler doesn’t qualify for the death penalty.” Actually, Kaine didn’t say that.

Kaine, who opposes both the death penalty and abortion on religious grounds, gave an equivocal answer to a newspaper interviewer who asked if Hitler, Stalin or Idi Amin “deserved” the death penalty. Kaine said that “they may deserve the death penalty” for their “heinous” acts. But Kaine also said, “God grants life, and God should take it away.”

Kaine also has said repeatedly that, despite his religous beliefs, he would carry out the death penalty if elected governor. The issue has become the main focus of TV ads by both candidates.


Kilgore’s 60-second ad, unveiled Oct. 11, attempts to support his prediction that Kaine can’t be trusted to carry out executions if elected governor, but it misquotes what Kaine said.

Jerry Kilgore Ad: “Stanley”

Stanley Rosenbluth: Richard was our first born. We had a great relationship. Married Becky. Everything they did, they did together, it was like two peas in a pod. Mark Sheppard shot Richard twice and went over and shot Becky two more times.

Tim Kaine voluntarily represented the person who murdered my son. He stood with murderers in trying to get them off death row.

(Text on screen: Tim Kaine opposes the death penalty even in extreme cases. Times-Dispatch 9/25/05)

No matter how heinous the crime, he doesn’t believe that death is a punishment. Tim Kaine says that Adolf Hitler doesn’t qualify for the death penalty. This was the… the worst mass murderer in modern times. Being as liberal as he is and the death penalty, he’s not representing everybody in the state.

(Text on screen: Get the facts: www.KaineRecord.com)

I don’t trust Tim Kaine when it comes to the death penalty. And I say that as a father whose had a son murdered. And the people of Virginia are entitled to know just what Tim Kaine is and what he stands for.

(Text on screen: We can’t trust Tim Kaine.)

Jerry Kilgore: I’m Jerry Kilgore, candidate for Governor, and my campaign sponsored this ad.

(Text on screen: Jerry Kilgore For Governor; Paid For By Virginians For Jerry Kilgore)

The ad is called “Stanley ” and appeared throughout Virginia and the District of Columbia. The Kilgore campaign won’t say how long the ad will be up or how much they are spending to air it. The spot features Stanley Rosenbluth, whose son and daughter-in-law were murdered 12 years ago. Kaine, an attorney, briefly assisted in the convicted killer’s appeal.

Hitler Doesn’t Qualify for Death Penalty?

Rosenbluth states that “Tim Kaine says that Adolf Hitler doesn’t qualify for the death penalty.”

The Kilgore campaign says that this refers to a Sept. 19 interview with the Richmond Times-Dispatch newspaper. But an audio recording of that interview shows Kaine didn’t actually say what the ad claims. In fact, at one point he said Hitler and two other genocidal dictators “may deserve the death penalty” for their heinous acts.

The interviewers were questioning Kaine on what has become a central issue in the campaign. Kaine has a long history of opposition to the death penalty – and also abortion – on grounds that his Roman Catholic faith teaches that human life is sacred. That’s not a popular position in Virginia, which has executed more prisoners than any other state save Texas.

But Kaine has said that he will carry out executions if elected. He appears in one of his own ads, saying “I take my oath of office seriously, and I’ll enforce the death penalty.” In another ad, Kaine says “I’ll enforce death sentences handed down by Virginia juries because that’s the law.”

The newspaper’s news department was pressing Kaine on the depth of his moral opposition to executions. It was one of the interviewers, Michael Hardy, and not Kaine, who brought up Hitler’s name:

Michael Hardy, Times-Dispatch editorial board: You couldn’t conceive of a case where the person, because of his behavior and criminal conduct, deserved the death penalty? What about Adolf Hitler, do you think he should be executed? Should have been executed? Joseph Stalin? Idi Amin?

Tim Kaine: Well you know, when you say deserve, it’s…(long pause)…you know, God grants life, and God should take it away. Horrible heinous things deserve incredible punishment, you bet. God grants life, God should take it away, that’s my religious belief. Except in the kind of rare instance of self defense, I mean, a person who, you know, kills someone in self defense, or a nation that, that wages a just war, that is essentially to defend itself or, or others, that would be an exception but…

Hardy: Your conviction is so deep that you cannot name one person in history, because of his malefactions and criminal behavior, deserved the death penalty?

Tim Kaine: Well no, I, the way I answered your question is that they may deserve, you, they may deserve it, of course they may for doing something heinous, they don’t deserve to live in civilized society, they may deserve the death penalty. You know, I look at the world, most nations have decided not to have a death penalty, and, and many are very safe, I don’t think, I don’t think it’s needed to be safe.

Kaine’s answer was equivocal – he stressed the word “deserve,” saying dictators like Hitler “may” warrant the death penalty, while also saying that God should be the one to take away a life and that the death penalty isn’t needed to keep citizens safe. That’s different from saying that “Hitler doesn’t qualify” for the death penalty. The Kilgore ad quotes him falsely on that point.

“Voluntarily” Tried to Get a Murderer Off?

In the same ad, Rosenbluth also claims that “Tim Kaine voluntarily represented the person who murdered my son. He stood with murderers in trying to get them off death row.” In fact, Kaine didn’t volunteer to represent the killer; an attorney in Kaine’s law firm was routinely appointed by the court to handle the appeal. Kaine says he had almost no personal involvement in the case.

Here are the facts:

Rosenbluth’s son Richard and wife Rebecca were killed in their home in November 1993 by Mark Sheppard, a drug dealer, while the couple was buying cocaine from him. Sheppard was convicted by a Virginia jury and sentenced to death.

On appeal, Sheppard needed legal representation. An appellate court appointed Dana J. Finberg, who worked with Tim Kaine at the law firm of Mezzulo & McCandlish in Richmond , to represent him.

Finberg was quoted by the Richmond Times-Dispatch as saying “the ad’s claim that Kaine voluntarily represented the murderer is wrong.” The newspaper said that Finberg was the lead lawyer and Kaine “advised Finberg” in the case. Kaine says his law firm’s billing records show he devoted about 40 minutes to the case. Sheppard was ultimately executed on January 20, 1999.

It is true that Kaine did assist in the defense of three inmates on death row, including Sheppard, over a legal career spanning more than two decades. All were eventually executed. Kaine’s opposition to the death penalty goes back at least to 1983, when he wrote an article in the Harvard Civil Rights—Civil Liberties Law Review arguing that the Constitution “mandates appellate review of capital sentences,” even if the inmates don’t want to appeal, in order “to protect not only the constitutional rights of individual defendants, but also the … interest of society in preventing arbitrary infliction of the death penalty.”

A “Smear?”

Tim Kaine Ad:
“More Ashamed”

Narrator: Jerry Kilgore’s attacks are a “vile attempt to manipulate for political gain.”

(On screen: The Roanoke Times, “vile attempt to manipulate…for base political gain,” 10/13/05)

Female narrator: Newspapers say Kilgore’s ads are dishonest . . .

(On screen: Daily Press, “dishonest,” 10/14/05)

Male narrator:  . . . a loathsome smear . . .

(On screen: The Washington Post, “loathsome,” “smear” 10/12/05

Female narrator: . . . falsely accuse Tim Kaine . . .

(On screen: Roanoke Times, “falsely accuse Kaine,” 10/13/05)

Male narrator: . . . and tar a decent man.

(On screen: Virginian-Pilot,“tar a decent man,” 10/13/05)

Female narrator: Kilgore should apologize to Tim Kaine.

(On screen: Bristol Herald Courier,“Kilgore should apologize” 10/14/05)

Tim Kaine: I’m Tim Kaine, candidate for governor. I approve this ad to set the record straight. I’ll enforce the death penalty. As governor, I’ll carry out death sentences handed down by Virginia juries because that’s the law.

Kaine responded to the Kilgore ad with one of his own, in which a narrator quotes blurbs from various newspapers that denounced the Republican spot as “vile,” a “smear,” “dishonest,” and a false accusation against “a decent man” for which Kilgore “should apologize.” The quotes are all accurate and in context, from editorials in the Washington Post, the Virginia-Pilot, the Hampton Roads  Daily Press,  the Roanoke Times and the Bristol Herald Courier. All excoriated the Kilgore ad in editorials, which, of course, are opinions and not facts. Four of those newspapers endorsed John Kerry for President last year, but the Herald Courier urged voters to support President Bush.

In his response ad, Kaine himself says once again – without any equivocation – “I’ll enforce the death penalty.”

by Matthew Barge

Correction, Oct. 20: In our original article, we said that the subject of Hitler came up in an interview that Tim Kaine had with the editorial board of the Richmond Times-Dispatch. In fact, Kaine’s interview was with the news department of the newspaper, as corrected above in this updated article.



Watch Kilgore Ad: Stanley”

Watch Kaine Ad: “More Ashamed”

Hear to Kaine’s Death Penalty Interview


Warren Fiske, “ New Kilgore ads hit Kaine hard over death penalty ,” The Virginian-Pilot, 12 October 2005

Death penalty demagoguery ,” editorial, The Roanoke Times, 13 October 2005.

Jeff E. Schapiro and Tyler Whitley, “Kilgore, Kaine spar on death penalty ,” Richmond Times-Dispatch, 13 October 2005.

“Campaign detours to the low road ,” editorial, The Virginian-Pilot, 13 October 2005.

Mr. Kilgore’s Low Road ,” editorial, The Washington Post, 16 October 2005.

“Ad Watch: Jerry W. Kilgore—Stanley Ad ,” Richmond Times-Dispatch, 13 October 2005.

Robert Barnes, “ Kilgore ads seek to divide Democrats ,” Washington Post, 13 October 2005.

Chris L. Jenkins, “ Kaine calls opponent’s ads egregious misrepresentation ,” Washington Post, 14 October 2005.

Michael D. Shear and Chris L. Jenkins, “ In last face-off, candidates drive home familiar points ,” Washington Post, 10 October 2005.

Tim Kaine, “Capital Punishment and the Waiver of Sentence Review,” Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review, Summer 1983 (18 Harv. C.R.-C.L. L. Rev. 483).

December 99 Executions ,” Pro-death Penalty.com, Web site, undated.

“Kaine on the death penalty ,” Richmond Times-Dispatch, Web site, 12 October 2005.

Melissa Scott Sinclair, “ Is Kaine Able? ,” Richmond Style Weekly, 12 October 2005.

“The Hitler card: In the search for votes, Kilgore goes looking in the gutter,” editorial, Newport News Daily Press , 14 Oct 2005.

“Death penalty attack is a vile political tactic,” editorial, Bristol (Va.) Herald Courier, 14 Oct 2005.