Feb. 22 – On Monday, Virginia legislators gave final approval to two bills to eliminate the death penalty, sending them to Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam, who is supposed to sign them. The Washington Post announced that the state Senate voted 22 to 16 to approve House Bill 2263, and the House of Delegates voted 57 to 43 to approve Senate Bill 1165.The bills, which are similar, would abolish the death penalty, set a mandatory penalty without the chance of parole for life in prison and grant judges the power to postpone part of the sentences.
In a joint statement with House Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn and Senate Majority Leader Dick Saslaw, Northam said, “Over Virginia’s long history, this commonwealth has executed more people than any other state,” “And Virginia has come so close to killing an innocent citizen, like many other nations. It’s time to avoid this machinery of death.”With final passage in the Virginia House and Senate, our commonwealth will soon join 22 states in abolishing the death penalty — an important step in ensuring our criminal justice system is fair and equitable.
“Sen. William Stanley Jr., R-Franklin, who, along with Sen. Scott Surovell D-Fairfax, co-sponsored the Senate bill, abstained from voting on the House bill after trying to amend it to ensure that those convicted of aggravated murder will never be eligible for parole or early release. Only one Republican Senator, Sen. Jill Holtzman Vogel, R-Fauquier, joined Democrats in supporting the law. In the Assembly, Democrats joined two Republicans in supporting the legislation.
Democrats were criticized by House Minority Leader Todd Gilbert, R-Shenandoah, saying they still have to display “even a little bit of concern for victims of crime. That should concern every Virginian.”His comments provoked Del’s response. Chris Hurst, D-Montgomery, whose mother, Alison Parker, was shot down five years ago on live television.Hurst said, “We are not a nation of emotions,” “We do not need to be a society that determines that there should be an eye for an eye.”
Virginia will be the first former Confederate state to eliminate the death penalty as soon as the bills are signed.In a tweet, the criminal justice reform group Equal Justice USA called the death penalty “a modern-day extension of lynching that magnifies the racism that permeates every aspect of our current criminal justice system.”Shari Silberstein, executive director of Equal Justice USA, previously said that Virginia’s attempts to eliminate the death penalty reveal “what must be done to reckon with our justice system’s deep-rooted racism.”