Northam signs bill abolishing the death penalty in Virginia

Virginia News

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Gov. Ralph Northam signed a bill abolishing the death penalty in Virginia today at the Greensville Correctional Center.

“There is no place for the death penalty in this state, in the south or in this country,” Northam said.

Before he signed the bill, the governor took a tour of the correctional center, including the execution room, where 102 people have been executed since 1991.

“I don’t know what else to say other than it is a powerful thing to stand in the room where people are put to death,” he said. “I know that experience will stay with me the rest of my life.”

During the signing, Northam said the Commonwealth has executed from than 1,300 — more than any other state. He said he used to believe in “an eye for an eye,” but as he got older he realized the death penalty is deelpy flawed.

“Eliminating the use of the death penalty here in Virginia is long overdue, said Del. Mike Mullin. “The evidence is clear. Use of the death penalty is riddled with wrongful convictions, inadequate representation, and racial bias. I am thankful that with the Governor’s signature today, we have relegated this inhumane practice to the history books.”

Northam said since 1973, more than 170 people around the country have been released from death due to their evidence. He said it’s not fair to sentence people to death when we know the system doesn’t always work.

“We can’t sentence people to that ultimate punishment knowing the system doesn’t work the same for everyone,” he said.

Northam said a defendant is 3 times more likely to be sentenced to death if the victim is white rather than Black. He added that in the twentieth century, 296 of the 377 people executed in Virginia were Black.

“And that is simply wrong,” Northam said. “And that is why it is time to end the death penalty in Virginia.”

The governor said people who do the ultimate crime will still be punished, but said justice and punishment are not always the same thing.

HB 2263 and SB 1165 remove executions from the list of punishments in Virginia Code and makes life in prison without the possibility of parole the maximum sentence the commonwealth can implement. It passed the Senate back in February with a  22-16 vote, and the House with a 57-43 vote.

Even before the 2021 General Assembly session, Northam endorsed this effort, calling the death penalty “inequitable, ineffective, and inhumane” in a joint statement with the state’s Democratic leadership moments after the state Senate approved the House’s bill.

After Northam signs the bill, Virginia will become the 23rd state and the first one in the south to abolish the death penalty.

You can watch the full signing ceremony below:

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