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Lawmakers In Virginia Vote To Abolish The Death Penalty

Prison guards stand outside the entrance to the Greensville Correctional Center where executions are carried out, in Jarratt, Va., on Sept. 23, 2010. This week, lawmakers in Virginia voted to abolished the death penalty.
Prison guards stand outside the entrance to the Greensville Correctional Center where executions are carried out, in Jarratt, Va., on Sept. 23, 2010. This week, lawmakers in Virginia voted to abolished the death penalty.

The Virginia House and Senate have both approved landmark legislation to abolish the death penalty in the commonwealth and Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam says he plans to sign the bill into law once it reaches his desk.

Before that happens, lawmakers still have to work out a disagreement about whether people sentenced to life in prison instead of death could be eligible for parole.

Two Republicans voted with Democrats in favor of abolition, but the party has been largely unified in opposition. One Republican Senator, Bill Stanley, co-sponsored the bill but abstained from voting. His support was conditional on a proposal to make people convicted of murder ineligible for parole after their death sentence was commuted.

Democrats couldn't agree to make that change.

Opponents of the death penalty cite the high cost, the possibility of executing the innocent, and the disproportionate racial impact. Almost half of the people Virginia executes are Black, although Black residents only account for roughly 20% of the state's population.

Del. Jay Jones, a Democrat, spoke to that last concern, remembering a conversation he had with his mother about her efforts to defend a man on death row.

"She said, 'Jay, I'm trying to keep a man from getting lynched by the state,' " Jones said. "The death penalty is the direct descendant of lynching. It is state-sponsored racism. And we have an opportunity to end this today."

Republican Del. Jason Miyares spoke in support of the death penalty. "Today in this commonwealth, we live under laws that are established for the common good," Miyares said.

Copyright 2021 VPM

Whittney Evans grew up southern Ohio and has worked in public radio since 2005. She has a communications degree from Morehead State University in Morehead, Kentucky, where she learned the ropes of reporting, producing and hosting. Whittney moved to Utah in 2009 where she became a reporter, producer and morning host at KCPW. Her reporting ranges from the hyper-local issues affecting Salt Lake City residents, to state-wide issues of national interest. Outside of work, she enjoys playing the guitar and getting to know the breathtaking landscape of the Mountain West.
Whittney Evans
KCPW reporter Whittney Evans shares Utah news stories with Utah Public Radio. Whittney holds a degree in communication with an emphasis in print journalism from Morehead State University in Kentucky.
David Streever is a journalist who has worked in public media since 2019, starting at WCVE-FM in Richmond, Va. before moving to Rochester, NY to work for WXXI. Before coming to public media, he reported for digital and print magazines after a tech career. When not working on the news, he bikes, cooks and spends time with his family.