Virginia first southern US state to abolish death penalty

WION Web Team
Washington, DC, United States of America Published: Mar 25, 2021, 11:33 AM(IST)

A correctional centre in Virginia Photograph:( AFP )

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Virginia is the first of the southern states that made up the Confederacy during the 1861-65 US Civil War to eliminate capital punishment.

Virginia is now the 23rd state in the United States to end capital punishment. Democratic Governor Ralph Northam Wednesday signed legislation repealing the death penalty in Virginia, saying it was "the moral thing to do."

Virginia is the first of the southern states that made up the Confederacy during the 1861-65 US Civil War to eliminate capital punishment.

The state last carried out an execution in 2017 and 1,400 in total -- more than any other of the 50 US states since its founding as a colony in the early 1600s.

The two prisoners currently on Death Row in Virginia will have their sentences converted to life without parole.

Northam signed the bill ending the death penalty at the Greensville Correctional Center in Jarratt, Virginia, which houses the state's execution chamber.

The governor described the use of the death penalty in Virginia as "fundamentally flawed" and racially biased.

Northam said that in the 20th century, 296 of the 377 defendants executed in Virginia for murder were Black. He cited studies that found a defendant is more than three times as likely to be sentenced to death if the victim of a crime is white than if the victim is Black.

The European Union applauded what it called the latest step in a growing trend to abandon capital punishment.

"The death penalty is incompatible with human dignity and the right to life, constitutes inhuman and degrading treatment, and does not have any proven deterrent effect," the bloc said in a statement.

The Virginia House of Delegates voted 57-41 last month to end capital punishment, two days after the state Senate approved a similar bill.

Virginia has conducted the second-most executions after Texas since the US Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976.

The state housed the capital of the pro-slavery South during the Civil War and was also the site of numerous lynchings of African Americans.

Contrary to all this, at the same time, former president Donald Trump's administration resumed federal executions and put 13 federal inmates to death between July 2020 and his departure from the White House in January.

Trump's successor, Joe Biden, has pledged to abolish the federal death penalty.

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