Virginia Governor Ralph Northam has said he supports a bill introduced by state lawmakers to end Capital punishment in the state, US media reported.
Virginia House and Senate state lawmakers on Wednesday introduced bills that would abolish the death penalty and convert existing death sentences to life sentences without parole, ABC News reported.
Later Wednesday, Governor of Virginia Northam said in his annual State of the Commonwealth Address that he supports efforts to abolish the death penalty in Virginia, citing racial injustices in the criminal justice system and the possibility that the state condemns the innocent.
We know that this has happened at least once in modern history. Earl Washington, a black man, was sentenced to death in 1984 and “spent 18 years in prison in Virginia, including nine and a half years on death row. But he didn’t, ”Northam said in his speech.
In an interview with the Richmond Times-Dispatch earlier this week, the governor also cited personal convictions and the 2020 federal death penalty blitz as the reasons for his efforts to end the death penalty.
The state of Virginia has executed 113 people since 1976 when the Supreme Court ruled that the death penalty could resume in the United States after a 10-year moratorium.
It was the second highest number of executions in a single state during this period, behind Texas, which carried out 570 executions. Oklahoma executed 112 people during the same period.
According to the Information Center on the Death Penalty (DPIC), no state west of Texas has executed anyone in the past five years. Virginia has not sentenced anyone to death for nine years, and only two men are on death row.
Gov. Northam’s push to end the death penalty in Virginia has received support from prosecutors and advocacy organizations.
A group of three former Virginia attorneys general and 11 attorneys wrote a letter to the state’s general assembly, which passes laws, calling for the death penalty to be abolished as part of broader reforms to the state. criminal justice.
“The death penalty is unfair, racist and ineffective in deterring crime,” the group wrote.
The General Assembly is controlled by Democrats who support criminal justice reform. Last year’s Black Lives Matter protests over several high-profile deaths of blacks in encounters with police have pushed the issue to political and national prominence.
“[T]here is a recognition that it is imperative to end the death penalty in a country struggling with racism in the legal system, ”said Sarah Craft, director of the death penalty program at Equal Justice USA, in a statement sent by email.
Virginia is currently one of 25 states that apply the death penalty, according to the DPIC. Three states have imposed moratoriums by the governor and 22 have abolished the death penalty, the organization said.
Federal executions to continue
Separately, on Wednesday, legal wrangling continued over two federal executions scheduled in the final days of US President Donald Trump’s tenure.
Two federal inmates are scheduled to be put to death this week: Corey Johnson, 52, on January 14 and Dustin Higgs, 48, on January 15 at the federal death chamber in Terre Haute, Indiana.
Earlier this week, a federal judge granted them a stay of execution until February after the two men tested positive for COVID-19. But the District of Columbia U.S. Court of Appeals lifted the injunction on Wednesday.
Later Wednesday, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit granted Higgs a stay of execution, although his order does not state on what grounds.
The men are set to die less than a week before President-elect Joe Biden, who has said he will seek to abolish the death penalty, takes office.
Lawyers for the two men say they are calling for new hearings which could further delay executions.
A panel of the fourth circuit granted a stay last night to #DustinHiggs on an independent issue which is not clear from the court order. @DPInfoCtr #death sentence
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– Robert Dunham (@RDunhamDPIC) January 14, 2021
The federal government did not execute anyone for 17 years until 2020, when the Trump administration revived the federal death penalty.
Ten people were put to death by the Department of Justice in 2020. Lisa Montgomery was executed in the wee hours of January 13, the first woman executed by the federal government since 1953.