RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — A group of advocates for abolishing the death penalty in Virginia will rally the General Assembly to put it to a vote.
Virginia would be the 22nd state to abolish capital punishment.
On Thursday, The Virginians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty group gathered reporters to announce their plans. Michael Stone, executive director of the group, said 13 family members of murder victims are in favor of doing away with the death penalty.
That includes Rachel Sutphin, whose father, Corporal Eric Sutphin, a law enforcement officer, was shot and killed by William Malvo in 2006 during a massive manhunt in Blacksburg. Malvo had escaped from jail and killed a security guard before killing Eric Sutphin.
Malvo was sentenced to death in 2008 and executed in July of 2017.
“Mr. Morva’s execution brought no solace to me but instead strengthens my resolve that the death penalty needs to be abolished,” Sutphin told 8News on Thursday.
She and 12 other family members of murder victims say the multi-year tedious process of executing the killers is in fact torturous for them. “I was plagued by all the uncertainty and was repeatedly forced to relive the worst day of my life.”
Once session begins, the families and group Virginians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty say they will ask the General Assembly to abolish the death penalty and give those perpetrators life in prison without parole instead.
“We felt by 2020 we would have enough support to have a serious debate with the legislature,” Stone said. He told 8News that he’s gotten support across party lines. “I don’t think that abolition is going to happen unless it’s truly bipartisan.”
“I choose to speak out because of my religious faith as well as my belief that the government does not have the right to take a life in response for someone taking a life,” Sutphin said.
Numerous reports show support for the death penalty has been declining in recent decades. “Since the mid-1990s, support for the death penalty has fallen among Democrats and independents but remained strong among Republicans,” a Pew Research center study says.
The same study says in 2018, 54 percent of Americans favored the death penalty for people convicted of murder.
Some death penalty supporters often reference the saying “an eye for an eye” and that the criminal gave up their right to live when they took a life. Though the effect is disputed, some argue that the threat of a death penalty will dissuade people from committing violent crimes.