Virginia to Abolish Death Penalty
(THE DAVINCI-CHARLOTTESVILLE) - Two weeks ago, the Virginia Senate and House of Delegates voted to abolish the death penalty in the state - a landmark decision for a state that has been carrying out executions for over 400 years.
Senate bill 1165 was passed on February 3rd, 21-17, with a vote closely split along party lines. The corresponding House bill was passed two days later, gaining ground with a more bipartisan 57-41. Governor Ralph Northam has pledged to sign the legislation, which is currently undergoing debate in regards to parole for former death-row inmates.
The move would make Virginia the 23rd state to abolish capital punishment, and the first state in the former Confederacy to pass such legislation. Virginia also has one of the highest execution rates, with over 1,300 deaths since 1608. Much of the currently pending legislation is focused on limiting the racial divide and bias in execution statistics.
Since 1900, nearly 79% of the 377 convicted death row felons in Virginia have been people of color, with only one person (Earl Washington Jr.) found innocent and exonerated. Of the 1,389 executions in Virginia since 1608, only four have been a white person who killed a black person.
“If we keep the death penalty in place, we are prolonging an expensive, ineffective and flawed system [...] to put it more bluntly ... the death penalty is profoundly racist,” said the sponsor of the House bill, Delegate Mike Mullin (D-Newport News). Opponents of the bill, such as Delegate Jason Miyares (R-Virginia Beach), attempted to remind the legislature of the justice deserved by victims. “Please do not forget about the victims [who] seem to be absent from these discussions,” Miyares said. Recently, several victim’s families have protested the use of the death penalty, including Rachel Stuphin, whose father, a sheriff’s deputy, was killed in action.
When the bill is signed into law, the two convicts currently on death row, Anthony Juniper and Thomas Porter, both sentenced over a decade ago, will presumably have their sentences commuted to life in prison.