Democratic attorney general candidate Paul Van Dam may say he favors the death penalty, but he can't separate himself from his party, which opposes it, according to Republican incumbent David Wilkinson.
Launching an attack Friday during the second formal debate between the candidates, Wilkinson took credit for the recent successful executions of convicted killers Pierre Dale Selby and Arthur Gary Bishop. He said he traveled to the prison to witness Bishop's execution by lethal injection earlier this year.Van Dam, Wilkinson said, belongs to the party of presidential candidate Michael Dukakis, who opposes the death penalty.
But Van Dam said Dukakis has no influence over his opinion on capital punishment.
"I have been to court and have prosecuted first-degree murder charges and I've asked for the death penalty," he said. "I not only believe in it, I've lived that experience."
Van Dam blamed Wilkinson for delays that have kept convicted Hi Fi Shop killer William Andrews on death row for 14 years. Andrews assisted Selby in torturing and murdering three people and trying to kill two others.
"Hasn't his (Wilkinson's) office also asked for extensions of time in that case to file briefs? They have actually added to the delays in the case," he said.
The debate was held in Park City during a statewide convention of law enforcement officials. Both candidates tried hard to make themselves look tough on crime while denigrating each other.
Wilkinson, seeking a third four-year term, said he wrote the state Republican Party's platform favoring capital punishment. The state's Democratic Party, he said, has no such platform.
Wilkinson accused Van Dam of being more interested in protecting the rights of criminals and in investigating alleged abuses among police officers than he is in prosecuting crimes.
Van Dam, who once served as Salt Lake County attorney, countered by referring to his years of experience as a prosecutor and by noting that Wilkinson has no such experience. Utah would not be known as a fraud capital if its attorney general knew how to aggressively prosecute crimes, Van Dam said.
He also attacked Wilkinson for taking the state's Cable Decency Act to the U.S. Supreme Court, despite losing every appeal along the way. The court ruled the act was unconstitutional.
"My worry is he didn't understand this was an unconstitutional act," Van Dam said.
Van Dam also criticized Wilkinson for having a poor relationship with Gov. Norm Bangerter and the Legislature.
"The attorney general needs a good relationship with the Legislature because they have to fund the office," he said.
Wilkinson countered by accusing Van Dam of having a bad relationship with the County Commission when he was county attorney. Wilkinson said the Legislature voted to give him a raise last year.