Speed Reads

Death Penalty in Decline

Virginia will become 23rd state, 1st in the South, to abolish the death penalty

Virginia, historically America's most prolific practitioner of capital punishment, will become the first state in the South to abolish the death penalty as soon as Gov. Ralph Northam (D) signs legislation given final approval Monday. The state Senate passed the House's capital punishment ban 22 to 16, with one Republican joining all Senate Democrats. The House of Delegates passed an identical Senate bill 57 to 43, with support from two Republicans.

"Over Virginia's long history, this Commonwealth has executed more people than any other state. And, like many other states, Virginia has come too close to executing an innocent person," Northam, Senate Majority Leader Richard Saslaw (D), and House Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn (D) said in a joint statement after the vote. The death penalty is "inequitable, ineffective, and inhumane," and "it's time we stop this machinery of death."

Once Northam signs the legislation, Virginia will be the 23rd state to abolish the death penalty, following Colorado's ban last year. Virginia has not executed any inmates since 2017 and hasn't sentenced anyone to death since 2011. The two remaining inmates on death row, Thomas Porter and Anthony Juniper, will serve out the rest of their lives in prison.

Since America's first execution in 1608 — when the Jamestown colony executed a Spanish spy — Virginia has put to death 1,390 people, including 113 after the Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. Those 113 executions put Virginia behind only Texas in modern-day use of capital punishment.

Abolishing the death penalty is "just the latest in a long list of sweeping policy changes enacted by Democrats" after they took full control of the General Assembly last year, The Associated Press reports. "Last year, lawmakers passed some of the region's strictest gun laws, broadest LGBTQ protections, its highest minimum wage, and some of its loosest abortion restrictions."