Thursday, March 25, 2021

Virginia abolishes the death penalty

Virginia, the state that has executed more people than any other in the nation, has abolished the death penalty, reported The Appeal.

The legislation abolishing the death penalty, which passed the House and Senate in February, was signed this afternoon by Governor Ralph Northam. “It is the moral thing to do,” he said during the signing ceremony. “The death penalty is fundamentally flawed.” Virginia becomes the first formerly Confederate state to abolish capital punishment. 

“That’s a really clear and powerful denunciation of the death penalty,” said Cassandra Stubbs, director of the Capital Punishment Project at the American Civil Liberties Union.

Virginia has executed more than 1,300 people since its founding as a colony in the 1600s. It executed 113 of those people in the years since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated capital punishment in 1976, according to the Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC). Only Texas has executed more people in the last 45 years.  

But the death penalty, both in use and popularity, has steadily declined in Virginia and throughout the country. In addition to the 22 states that had already abolished capital punishment, another 12 have not carried out an execution in at least 10 years, according to DPIC. In Virginia, a death sentence has not been handed down since 2011. 

There are only two people on death row in Virginia, Anthony Juniper and Thomas Porter. Under the new legislation, their sentences will be changed to life in prison. Because they were 18 or older at the time of their offenses, they will not be eligible for parole or conditional release. 

Even those who once defended executions have embraced abolition. State Senate Majority Leader Richard Saslaw, a Democrat, was among the 21 senators who voted to abolish the death penalty. But throughout his career, he had supported capital punishment, and in 2016 he joined then Governor Terry McAuliffe in protecting pharmacies that supply lethal injection drugs. 

“There’s only two people on death row; juries are just not handing out the sentences anymore,” said Saslaw about his vote, the Washington Post reported. “That option’s not there right now.”

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