updated 3/27/2009 7:20:03 PM ET 2009-03-27T23:20:03

Gov. Timothy M. Kaine vetoed legislation Friday that would have extended the death penalty to murder accomplices, a measure that would have increased the population eligible for execution in the nation's second-busiest death chamber.

It was the third consecutive year that Kaine, a Democrat, has vetoed bills to expand Virginia's "triggerman rule," which reserves the death penalty only for those who commit a murder.

"While the nature of the offenses targeted by this legislation is very serious, I do not believe that further expansion of the death penalty is necessary to protect human life," Kaine said in a statement announcing the vetoes.

Virginia has executed more inmates than any other state except Texas since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated capital punishment in 1976. During his tenure as governor, Kaine has allowed nine executions and commuted one sentence. Currently, the state has 15 inmates awaiting execution on death row.

Virginia is one of only a handful of the nation's 35 death penalty states that do not allow capital punishment for those who are involved in a murder, but don't actually kill the victim.

"We tried to make the case that Virginia should not be in that vast minority since we believe in and utilize the death penalty as strongly as anywhere else in the country for its punitive and deterrent effects," said Republican Del. Todd Gilbert, who sponsored one of the triggerman bills.

Kaine, the new chairman of the Democratic National Committee, also vetoed bills Friday that would have made capital punishment possible for those who kill on-duty fire marshals or auxiliary police officers.

Those bills passed the General Assembly with veto-proof majorities, so it is possible lawmakers could override him when they reconvene April 8. The legislation extending the death penalty to accomplices was a few votes shy of becoming veto-proof in the Senate.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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