Virginia Becomes First State in Southern United States to End Death Penalty | Crime News

Advocates hope the move will lead to an end to the death penalty in the southern United States, where most executions take place.

Virginia Governor Ralph Northam signed a law Wednesday making Virginia the 23rd state in abolish the death penalty, a radical change for the Commonwealth, which recorded the second highest number of executions in the United States.

“There is no place today for the death penalty in this Commonwealth, in the south or in this country,” Northam said shortly before signing the law.

The bills were the culmination of a years-long battle fought by Democrats who argued the the death penalty has been applied disproportionately to people of color, the mentally ill and the poor.

Republicans have argued unsuccessfully that the death penalty should remain a sentencing option for particularly heinous crimes and to bring justice to victims and their families.

Virginia’s new Democratic majority, in full control of the General Assembly for a second year, won the debate last month when the Senate and House of Delegates passed bills banning capital punishment.

National and local rights groups applauded the measure.

Kristina Roth, senior criminal justice programs lawyer at Amnesty International USA, said in a statement that the organization welcomed the news.

“The death penalty is irreversible, it is ineffective, and that doesn’t deter crime… We hope to see more states working to remove this most extreme punishment where it belongs – as a relic of the past, not part of our future, ”Roth concluded.

“Virginia’s legacy on the death penalty was so closely tied to her history of slavery and lynching“Reverend LaKeisha Cook, justice reform organizer at the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy, said in a statement to Al Jazeera.

Northam, a Democrat, signed the House and Senate bills in a tent ceremony Wednesday after visiting the execution chamber at the Greensville Correctional Center, where 102 people have been put to death since executions were transferred there from the Virginia State Penitentiary in the early 1990s.

Northam said the death penalty had been disproportionately applied to blacks and was the product of a flawed justice system that don’t always do things right. Since 1973, more than 170 people have been released from the death row after evidence of their innocence was discovered, he said.

Virginia Governor Ralph Northam looks at the electric chair in the death chamber at Greensville Correctional Center as Director of Operations George Hinkle, right, watches before signing a bill to abolish the sentence on March 24, 2021 .[Steve Helber/AP Photo]

“Now that it comes to an end, we can begin a new chapter that encompasses an evidence-based approach to public safety: one that values ​​the dignity of all human beings and focuses on transforming the justice system into a system based on equity, responsibility and redemption. “

Virginia has executed nearly 1,400 people since its inception as a colony. In modern times, the state is second after Texas in the number of executions it has carried out, with 113 since the Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976, according to the information center for non-profit. profit on the death penalty.

Only two men remain on Virginia’s death row: Anthony Juniper, who was sentenced to death in the 2004 murder of his ex-girlfriend, two of his children and his brother; and Thomas Porter, who was sentenced to death for the 2005 murder of a Norfolk police officer. Their sentences will now be commuted to life imprisonment without parole.

In addition to the 23 states that now have abolished the death penalty, three others have put in place moratoria imposed by their governors.

Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, said the legislation could mark the start of the end of capital punishment in the south, where most executions are currently taking place.

“The death penalty in Virginia has deep roots in slavery, lynchings and Jim Crow segregation,” Dunham told the Associated Press news agency. “The symbolic value of dismantling this tool which has been used historically as a mechanism of racial oppression by a legislature sitting in the former capital of Confederation cannot be overstated.”

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