Virginia to Become First Southern State to End Executions

Repeal bill is headed to governor's desk
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Feb 22, 2021 1:28 PM CST
Virginia to Become First Southern State to End Executions
Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam talks at a COVID-19 vaccination event at Richmond Raceway in Richmond, Va., on Thursday, Jan. 21, 2021.   (Dean Hoffmeyer/Richmond Times-Dispatch via AP)

State lawmakers gave final approval Monday to a bill that will end capital punishment in Virginia, a dramatic turnaround for a state that has executed more people in its history than any other. The legislation repealing the death penalty now heads to Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam, who has said he will sign the measure into law, making Virginia the 23rd state to stop executions, the AP reports. Virginia's Democratic majority, in control of the General Assembly for a second year, pushed the repeal effort, arguing that the death penalty has been applied disproportionately to people of color, the mentally ill, and the indigent. Republicans raised concerns about justice for victims and their family members, and said there are some crimes that are so heinous that the perpetrators deserve to be executed.

Both the House and Senate approved separate repeal bills earlier this month. On Monday, the Senate approved the House bill, advancing it to Northam on a 22-16 vote. Republican Sen. Jill Vogel joined with Democrats in the chamber in voting for passage. The bill will make Virginia the first Southern state to abolish the death penalty, the Washington Post notes. Historically, Virginia has used the death penalty more than any other state, executing nearly 1,400 people since its days as a colony, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. Since the US Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976, Virginia, with 113 executions, is second only to Texas. Only two men remain on Virginia's death row. The repeal legislation would convert their sentences to life without parole.

(Read more death penalty stories.)

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