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Virginia Has Abolished The Death Penalty

Virginia Has Abolished The Death Penalty

Gov. Ralph Northam has put an end to the death penalty in Virginia by signing a historic bill that abolishes the practice in the state that has executed the most people, the Associated Press reported

According to NBC Washington, Northam was scheduled to sign the legislation on Wednesday afternoon following a tour of the Greensville Correctional Center’s death chamber. The bill was signed nearly one month after lawmakers voted in favor of prohibiting the fatal punishment.

Virginia’s 15 capital punishment offenses will now be addressed as aggravated murder, punishable by a life sentence.

The legislation marks a cultural shift in the way southern states are considering capital punishment. Since colonial times, Virginia has put nearly 1,400 people to death, according to NBC. After the Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976, Virginia is second only to Texas in the number of executions it has ordered.

Richmond news station WTRV News 6 reported delegate Mike Mullin, who authored the bill, expressed that the acceptance of the bill is a sign the “Virginia General Assembly has finally caught up with Virginians.”

“Virginia juries are given an opportunity to put somebody to death at least once a month here in Virginia,” Mullin said during a news conference. “And they declined to do so for 11 years. It’s not for lack of opportunity. Instead, Virginia juries don’t want to issue the death penalty, even when they’ve been given the opportunity.”

Critics of the legislation have raised concerns about altering a process of justice for the families of victims. However, Mullin said that one innocent life taken is a decision that cannot be unmade, according to WTRV.

“What do you say to the last innocent person who’s been executed?” Mullins asked. “What do you say to their family, if after we put them to death, we find out that they were innocent? Not saying that there aren’t bad people in prison, and there aren’t bad people out there. But if we put someone to death and then find out later that they’re innocent, we can’t unmake that.”

The delegate also expressed that the death penalty has been used as an institution to promote racism and white supremacy since its inception.

“We’ve executed almost 1,400 people, and the first time that a white man was executed for killing a black man was in 1997,” Mullin said. “Out of the 1,400, that’s only happened four times. And the reason is [that] statistically, the most likely indicator that you’re going to be put to the death penalty is if it is a Black defendant and a white victim. That’s racist. We need to put an end to it.”

Two men who are currently on death row will remain in prison without the possibility of parole, per WTRV.

Anthony Juniper was sentenced for the 2004 killings of Keshia Stephens and her brother Rueben Harrison III, in addition to the killings of the woman’s two young daughters, Nykia and Sharyia Stephens.

According to The Washington Post, Thomas Alexander Porter was sentenced to death for the capital murder of Norfolk police officer Stanley Reaves in 2005. Last summer, he had his third appeal denied by a judge after he alleged that a juror in his trial was biased.

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