Virginia Governor Ralph Northam has signed a bill abolishing the death penalty in the state. Until now, Virginia had executed the second-highest number of criminals in the US, behind Texas.
Northam signed the bill, passed by Virginia’s Democrat-controlled legislature last month, into law on Wednesday. “It is the moral thing to do,” Northam said at a signing ceremony in the Greensville Correctional Center, where the state carries out its executions.
While conservatives maintain that the death penalty should be reserved for the most heinous crimes, Democrats and progressives have long argued that it is barbaric, and often applied disproportionately to minority offenders. Aside from the alleged bias, capital punishment always carries the risk of sending an innocent victim to their death. Indeed, Northam stated at the ceremony that 170 people had been freed from death row since 1973, after evidence emerged proving their innocence.
Since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976, Virginia has executed 113 people, the second highest number for a US state behind Texas, where a staggering 569 people have been put to death. The last executions at Greensville took place in 2017, when serial murderer Ricky Javon Gray and cop killer William Charles Morva were executed by lethal injection.
Including Virginia, 23 states have now abolished the death penalty, while governors in three others have placed moratoriums on executions.
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