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Prosecutors call for end to death penalty in Virginia

Published: Jan. 14, 2021 at 7:14 PM EST
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RICHMOND, Va. (WDBJ) - Opponents of the death penalty are hoping this will be the year Virginia outlaws capital punishment.

Both the Governor and the Attorney General are now on board. Leading Democrats, and some Republicans, say they support legislation that would eliminate the death penalty.

Thursday morning, during a news conference organized by the Virginia Interfaith Center, we heard from a group called Progressive Prosecutors for Justice.

The group includes a dozen Commonwealth’s Attorneys from communities with about 40 percent of Virginia’s population. Members say they have many reasons to oppose the death penalty.

Steve Descano is the Commonwealth’s Attorney of Fairfax County.

“Not only is it racist; it is not effective,” Descano said. “And.... there are other ways to keep the community safe.”

Shannon Taylor is the Commonwealth’s Attorney in Henrico County.

“There is absolutely no data, no research out there that suggests that the death penalty... deters people from crime,” Taylor said.

And Jim Hingeley is Commonwealth’s Attorney in Albemarle County.

“Wrongful convictions are a fact of life,” Hingeley said. “There is no reason at all that we should have the death penalty when we make so many mistakes.”

But even with the growing chorus of support for legislation that would end the practice, others say the law should remain on the books. Delegate Todd Gilbert is a former prosecutor and the Republican leader in the House of Delegates.

“I do think it should be for the worst of the worst,” Gilbert said. “I think that it should be used sparingly, but I do think it’s an important tool, both as a deterrent and a punishment to the most heinous crimes that people can commit in our society.”

Measures that would abolish the death penalty have been introduced in the House of Delegates and State Senate.

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