Los Angeles Times

Law­mak­ers in Vir­ginia vote to abol­ish the death penalty

- By Denise Lavoie and Sarah Rankin Lavoie and Rankin write for the Associated Press. US Elections · Crime · U.S. News · US Politics · Society · Politics · Richmond · Ralph Northam · Congress of the United States · United States Senate · Republican Party (United States) · Norfolk · Delaware · Commonwealth · Democratic Party (United States) · Old Dominion · United States of America · Texas · Confederate States of America · Virginia · Montgomery County · Eileen Filler-Corn · Richard L. Saslaw · Robert B. Bell · Robert E. Lee · Jill Holtzman Vogel · U.S. Supreme Court · Michael Stone · Jeff Campbell

RICH­MOND, Va. — State law­mak­ers gave fi­nal ap­proval Mon­day to leg­is­la­tion that will end cap­i­tal pun­ish­ment in Vir­ginia, a dra­matic turn­around for a state that has ex­e­cuted more peo­ple in its long history than any other.

The leg­is­la­tion re­peal­ing the death penalty now heads to Demo­cratic Gov. Ralph Northam, who has said he will sign it into law, mak­ing Vir­ginia the 23rd state to stop ex­e­cu­tions.

“There’s a re­al­iza­tion that it is time to end this out­dated prac­tice that tends to bring more harm to victims’ fam­ily mem­bers than pro­vid­ing us any com­fort or so­lace,” said Rachel Sut­phin, whose fa­ther, Cpl. Eric Sut­phin, was fa­tally shot in 2006 while work­ing for the Mont­gomery County Sher­iff ’s Of­fice.

Wil­liam Morva, the man con­victed of killing Eric Sut­phin, was ex­e­cuted in 2017. Two years later, Rachel Sut­phin was one of 13 fam­ily mem­bers of mur­der victims who sent a let­ter to the Gen­eral Assem­bly ask­ing law­mak­ers to abol­ish the death penalty.

“By vot­ing for abo­li­tion, we are show­ing the way, that if Vir­ginia — the state with the long­est history and the most peo­ple ex­e­cuted — if we can do it, so can other states,” Rachel Sut­phin said.

Vir­ginia’s new Demo­cratic ma­jor­ity, in full con­trol of the Gen­eral Assem­bly for a sec­ond year, pushed the re­peal ef­fort, ar­gu­ing that the death penalty has been ap­plied dis­pro­por­tion­ately to peo­ple of color, the men­tally ill and the in­di­gent.

“It is vi­tal that our crim­i­nal jus­tice system op­er­ates fairly and pun­ishes peo­ple eq­ui­tably. We all know the death penalty doesn’t do that. It is in­equitable, in­ef­fec­tive, and in­hu­mane,” Northam, House Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn and Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Dick Saslaw said in a joint state­ment after the votes.

Repub­li­cans raised con­cerns about jus­tice for victims and their fam­ily mem­bers, and said there are some crimes that are so heinous that the per­pe­tra­tors de­serve to be ex­e­cuted.

Only two men re­main on Vir­ginia’s death row. An­thony Ju­niper was sen­tenced to death in the 2004 slay­ings of his for­mer girl­friend, two of her chil­dren, and her brother. Thomas Porter was sen­tenced to die for the 2005 killing of a Nor­folk po­lice of­fi­cer. The re­peal leg­is­la­tion would con­vert their sen­tences to life in pri­son with­out pa­role.

Dur­ing the de­bate on the House floor Mon­day, Repub­li­can Del. Rob Bell de­scribed those killings in grue­some de­tail, and said Porter and Ju­niper would be watch­ing the vote from pri­son with spe­cial in­ter­est.

“We have five dead Vir­gini­ans

that this bill will make sure that their killers will not re­ceive jus­tice,” Bell said.

Porter, Ju­niper and their fam­i­lies have de­clined to com­ment through their at­tor­ney, Rob Lee, ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor of the Vir­ginia Cap­i­tal Rep­re­sen­ta­tion Re­source Cen­ter.

“By elim­i­nat­ing the death penalty, gov­ern­men­tal, po­lit­i­cal, and moral lead­ers have taken a long over­due ac­tion needed to make Vir­ginia a fairer and more just Com­mon­wealth,” Lee said in a state­ment.

The pas­sage of the leg­is­la­tion was just the lat­est in a long list of sweep­ing pol­icy changes en­acted by Democrats, who have in­creas­ingly re­shaped the Old Do­min­ion into an out­lier in the South on racial, so­cial and eco­nomic is­sues.

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. This year too, law­mak­ers have been pass­ing one pro­gres­sive mea­sure after another.

But the death penalty bill marks a par­tic­u­larly stark re­ver­sal in a state where ex­e­cu­tions pro­ceeded in the last decade un­der both Repub­li­can and Demo­cratic gov­er­nors.

The state leg­is­la­ture and state of­fi­cials have also acted in re­cent years to pre­serve Vir­ginia’s abil­ity to carry out ex­e­cu­tions and limit trans­parency around the process.

Even last year, death penalty abo­li­tion bills in the Gen­eral Assem­bly went nowhere.

On Mon­day, both cham­bers ap­proved sep­a­rate but iden­ti­cal re­peal bills. The Se­nate ap­proved a House bill, ad­vanc­ing it to Northam on a 22-16 vote. Repub­li­can Sen. Jill Vo­gel joined with Democrats in the cham­ber in vot­ing for pas­sage. Later Mon­day, House Democrats and two GOP mem­bers, Del. Jeff Camp­bell and Del. Car­rie Coyner, voted to ap­prove the Se­nate ver­sion, 57-43.

His­tor­i­cally, Vir­ginia has used the death penalty more than any other state, ex­e­cut­ing nearly 1,400 peo­ple since its days as a colony, ac­cord­ing to the Death Penalty In­for­ma­tion Cen­ter. Since the U.S. Supreme Court re­in­stated the death penalty in 1976, Vir­ginia, with 113 ex­e­cu­tions, is sec­ond only to Texas.

Michael Stone, ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor of Vir­gini­ans for Al­ter­na­tives to the Death Penalty, called the vote to abol­ish cap­i­tal pun­ish­ment a land­mark mo­ment in the state’s history.

“We hope that Vir­ginia will set an ex­am­ple for other states from the old Con­fed­er­acy to take this bold step to­ward the hu­mane re­form of our le­gal jus­tice system,” Stone said.

 ?? Steve Hel­ber Associated Press ?? BILLS to abol­ish the death penalty in Vir­ginia passed the Demo­cratic-con­trolled state Se­nate 22 to 16 and the House 57 to 43. Just last year, death penalty abo­li­tion bills did not ad­vance in the state’s Gen­eral Assem­bly.
Steve Hel­ber Associated Press BILLS to abol­ish the death penalty in Vir­ginia passed the Demo­cratic-con­trolled state Se­nate 22 to 16 and the House 57 to 43. Just last year, death penalty abo­li­tion bills did not ad­vance in the state’s Gen­eral Assem­bly.

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