Richmond Times-Dispatch

Innocence commission needed in Virginia

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HARRY BEAR.

HENRICO.

EDITOR, TIMES-DISPATCH:

It came as no surprise that one of the first moves Virginia Democrats made this year was to file bills seeking to abolish the death penalty. I’ve always supported the death penalty to some degree. I believe that some crimes are so heinous that the only fitting punishment is death. While I do not agree that abolishing the death penalty is the right thing to do, the death penalty does need reform in Virginia.

On average, a Virginia death row inmate will spend seven years in prison between sentencing and execution. Although Virginia has been much more careful than other states in ensuring that no innocent people are executed, there is another reform that should be implemente­d: the creation of innocence commission­s. In 2006, North Carolina became the first state to establish such a commission. North Carolina has a panel of eight members, which includes a superior court judge, a prosecutin­g attorney, a defense attorney, a victim advocate, a member of the public, a sheriff and two discretion­ary members. The commission reviews factual innocence claims, and since its inception, the panel has reviewed more than 2,800 claims. Such a system would be extremely important for death penalty cases in Virginia, and the legislatur­e should seek to establish an innocence commission here.

The death penalty is a highly controvers­ial subject that has been debated for centuries. I believe that the death penalty can provide justice. Justice is not about bringing back the dead. It is not about revenge, either. Justice is about enforcing consequenc­es for one’s actions to endorse personal responsibi­lity. We cannot expect anyone to take responsibi­lity for his or her own actions if these consequenc­es are not enforced in full. A jury should have the option to impose a death sentence if it sees fit.

Del. Sam Rasoul, D-Roanoke, have observed the steady calm that comes from moral strength, not political power. He promotes common values, not partisan agendas. He rallies support around enduring goals, and he never wastes energy on token targets. Doris Kearns Goodwin, Pulitzer Prize-winning historian, writes that the central measuremen­t of democracy can be gauged by the questions its leaders share with the public. Indeed, Rasoul always defines and explains the important legislativ­e decisions and processes confrontin­g him. He believes stakeholde­rs must be given opportunit­y to shape public policy from the start, partly because doing so promotes fairness, but also because he trusts us.

Kearns Goodwin also observes that successful leaders must master the power of narrative and simplify the public agenda.

Rasoul’s candidacy for lieutenant governor soon shall demonstrat­e leadership that sets forth a compelling vision of what our future could hold.

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