RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - Former Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine on Wednesday defended his request to send a convicted killer and former German diplomat's son back to his homeland, saying his rationale was a fiscal one.
"I basically said, "Look, Virginia taxpayers have borne the cost of this German citizen's incarceration for 20-plus years.' I thought it was time for German citizens to bear the cost of his incarceration," Kaine told reporters in his first public remarks about the decision, a day after he entered the 2012 U.S. Senate race in Virginia.
Kaine, the former Democratic National Committee chairman, is running for Democratic Sen. Jim Webb's seat after Webb said in February he would not seek a second term.
Kaine's request in January 2010, four days before Kaine left the governor's office, that Attorney General Eric Holder transfer Jens Soering from a Virginia prison to Germany where he could be freed in two years became an instant issue in the campaign.
Soering was convicted of killing his then-girlfriend's parents, Derek and Nancy Haysom, who were stabbed and nearly decapitated in 1985. Soering and Elizabeth Haysom fled the United States as police closed in and traveled Europe until they were captured in London.
Both confessed to the killing. Soering later said he confessed only because he wanted to spare his sweetheart the death penalty, wrongly believing his father's diplomatic immunity shielded him. Since then, Soering has penned books proclaiming his innocence and picked up international support for his release.
Kaine said he rejected Germany's first request to transfer Soering, but agreed a year later.
"I didn't believe it would be popular, but I thought it would be the right thing to do," Kaine said at a news conference.
The Roanoke Times first reported the story about Kaine's request, hours before his Republican successor, Gov. Bob McDonnell, was inaugurated. McDonnell quickly rescinded Kaine's request, and ultimately, the U.S. government refused to transfer Soering, who is serving two life terms.
"I don't think the issue is going away," said University of Richmond political science professor Dan Pallazollo. "One thing that could keep it alive is if he can't answer the question to people's satisfaction."
Kaine is the only announced Democrat in the race so far. Republican George Allen is also running for the seat he lost to Webb in 2006, and faces a nomination fight from Richmond tea party activist Jamie Radtke.