State Senate votes to repeal death penalty in Virginia

Published: Feb. 3, 2021 at 7:18 PM EST
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RICHMOND, Va. (WDBJ) - The State Senate has voted to repeal the death penalty in Virginia, and it appears the House of Delegates will be close behind.

“Mr. President, I think it’s time that we stand with the majority of Virginians … and we move on from this,” said Sen. Scott Surovell (D-Fairfax Co.).

Lawmakers who hope to repeal the death penalty cited a number of reasons, including racial disparities, the expense of defending capital cases and the history of executing some who were innocent.

“I cannot think of anything that is more awful, unspeakable and wrong for a government to do than use its power to execute somebody who didn’t commit the crime they’re accused of,” Surovell told his colleagues.

“It’s an action we can never take back,” added Sen. Barbara Favola (D-Arlington).

Some Republicans said they could have supported the legislation if it required those convicted of aggravated murder to serve life without the possibility of parole, but that amendment failed.

Supporters of the death penalty said it should be reserved for the worst of the worst.

“We all want to be compassionate,” said Sen. Richard Stuart (R-Stafford), “but there are some people who don’t deserve our compassion.”

“There are clearly cases in which capital punishment is an appropriate sanction,” said Sen. Mark Obenshain (R-Rockingham).

“If you really think this is the best idea, you go back and tell your constituents that you think that’s the best idea,” said Sen. John Cosgrove (R-Chesapeake). “I bet a lot of them will disagree with you. "

Recent polls, including one this week, suggest a majority of Virginians support repeal of the death penalty. A similar bill cleared a House committee Wednesday, and should be up for a vote on the House floor before the end of the week.

Governor Northam issued this statement:

“Today’s vote in the Virginia Senate is a tremendous step toward ending the death penalty in our Commonwealth. Virginia has executed more people than any other state. The practice is fundamentally inequitable. It is inhumane. It is ineffective. And we know that in some cases, people on death row have been found innocent.

“It’s time for Virginia to join 22 other states and abolish the death penalty. I applaud every Senator who cast a courageous vote today, and I look forward to signing this bill into law.”

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