Virginia Governor, Ralph Northam has said he supports a bill introduced by state legislators to end capital punishment in the state, US media reported.
State legislators in Virginia’s house and senate on Thursday, 14 January, introduced bills that would abolish the death penalty and convert existing capital sentences to life sentences without parole, ABC News reported.
Northam said in his annual state of commonwealth address that he supports efforts to abolish Virginia’s death penalty, citing racial injustices in the criminal justice system and the possibility of the state condemning innocent people.
”This is known to have 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 of them on death row, but he didn’t do it, Northam said in his address.
The governor also cited personal convictions and the federal death penalty blitz of 2020 as reasons motivating his push to end capital punishment.
The state of Virginia has executed 113 people since 1976 when the supreme court ruled capital punishment could resume in the US following a 10-year moratorium.
It is the second-highest number of executions in a single state during that time, behind Texas, which has carried out 570 executions. Oklahoma has executed 112 people in the same time period.
According to the death penalty information center (DPIC), no state west of Texas has executed anyone for the last five years. Virginia has not sentenced anyone to death in nine years and only two men sit on its death row.
Governor Northam’s push to end the death penalty in Virginia has been met with support from prosecutors and advocacy organisations.
A group of three former Virginia attorneys general and 11 prosecutors wrote a letter to the state’s general assembly, which passes laws, asking for death penalty abolishment as part of larger criminal justice reforms.
“The death penalty is unjust, racially-biased, and ineffective at deterring crime, the group wrote.
Virginia is currently among 25 states that use capital punishment, according to DPIC. Three states have governor-imposed moratoriums, and 22 have abolished capital punishment, the organisation said.
On Wednesday, 13 January, legal wrangling continued over two federal executions scheduled to take place during the final days of United States President Donald Trump’s term.
Ten people were put to death by the Justice Department in 2020. Lisa Montgomery was executed in the early hours of January 13, the first woman to be executed by the federal government since 1953.