On Monday, Virginia’s state Senate passed a bill that was already approved by the House of Delegates officially banning the death penalty in the southern state. The bill now waits to be signed into law by Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam, which is expected.
The bill would join Virginia with 22 other states that have voted to end capital punishment. The Associated Press reported that Virginia has “executed more people in its long history than any other.”
Rachel Sutphin, whose father, Cpl. Eric Sutphin, was fatally shot in 2006 while working for the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office, was one of 13 family members of murder victims who reportedly sent a letter to the General Assembly in Virginia, asking legislators to get rid of the death penalty.
“There’s a realization that it is time to end this outdated practice that tends to bring more harm to victims’ family members than providing us any comfort or solace,” she said. “By voting for abolition, we are showing the way, that if Virginia — the state with the longest history and the most people executed — if we can do it, so can other states.”
Virginia has a new Democratic majority and is in complete control of the General Assembly for its second year. The majority party pushed for the ban of the death penalty, “arguing that the death penalty has been applied disproportionately to people of color, the mentally ill and the indigent.”
After the votes, Northam, House Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn, and Senate Majority Leader Dick Saslaw issued a joint statement, saying:
It is vital that our criminal justice system operates fairly and punishes people equitably. We all know the death penalty doesn’t do that. It is inequitable, ineffective, and inhumane.
Over Virginia’s long history, this Commonwealth has executed more people than any other state. And, like many other states, Virginia has come too close to executing an innocent person. It’s time we stop this machinery of death.
Thanks to the vote of lawmakers in both chambers, Virginia will join 22 other states that have ended use of the death penalty. This is an important step forward in ensuring that our criminal justice system is fair and equitable to all.
Republicans, however, had concerns about providing justice for the family members of victims.
Currently, only two men sit on Virginia’s death row. If the bill is signed into law, they will receive sentences of life in prison without parole instead of execution.
During the virtual House debate on Monday, Republican Del. Rob Bell spoke of the killings that put the two men on death row in detail, making the case against the repeal of capital punishment.
“We have five dead Virginians that this bill will make sure that their killers will not receive justice,” Bell said.
Michael Stone, executive director of Virginians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, called the vote to abolish capital punishment a landmark moment in the state’s history.
“We hope that Virginia will set an example for other states from the old Confederacy to take this bold step toward the humane reform of our legal justice system,” Stone said.
According to the Death Penalty Information Center, death sentences in the United States have dropped dramatically over the last decade, with the number of sentences at 223 in 2000, 114 by 2010, and 18 by 2020. In the last 10 years, the sentencing fell from 114 to 18.
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