By IVAN PEREIRA, ABC News
(RICHMOND, Va.) — Virginia state lawmakers introduced legislation Wednesday that would abolish the state’s death penalty.
Virginia House of Delegates member Mike Mullin and state Sen. Scott Surovell introduced bills to their respective houses that would abolish the death penalty and convert existing capital sentences to sentences of life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Mullin said in a statement that the use of capital punishment “is flawed with wrongful convictions, inadequate representation, geographic disparity, and racial bias.”
“It is not a crime deterrent, but instead perpetuates a culture of violence that does not belong in the Commonwealth,” he said in a statement.
As of October 2020, Virginia had executed 113 people since 1973, according to the Death Penalty Information Center, a nonpartisan nonprofit that tracks death row inmates. Only Texas has had more executions during that period, with 570, according to the DPIC.
Eleven out of the 14 executions carried out by the federal government up to October 2020 have taken place in the last two years, the DPIC said. At least four other federal executions have taken place since October, including the first woman executed since 1953.
Virginia prisoners on death row are executed by lethal injection, however, the prisoner can choose electrocution, according to state law.
Virginia hasn’t executed anyone since 2017 and most Virginia counties haven’t had an execution in 50 years, according to data from the DPIC. There are currently two people on death row in the state, the DPIC said.
The House of Delegates and state Senate bills are each likely to have strong support after gaining a Democratic majority last year. The legislature has pushed progressive bills forward since Democrats took control.
House Delegate Minority Leader Todd Gilbert did not immediately respond to a request from ABC News for comment. However, at least one Republican state senator, Bill Stanley, told The Associated Press in December he would support a new bill.
Gov. Ralph Northam said he supports the bill and will sign it if passed in the state legislature.
“I’m committed to abolishing the death penalty in Virginia,” he said in a statement.
Robert Dunham, the executive director of the DPIC, told ABC News a death penalty abolishment would be a significant move, as most of the country’s executions take place in Deep South states.
“There hasn’t been [a state] execution west of Texas in more than five years. There has been a national erosion,” Dunham told ABC News. “The last area so far that has evaded that erosion is the South.”
Dunham credited the changing public opinion and election of progressive prosecutors and leaders for the change in Virginia. The state hasn’t issued a death sentence in five years, he said.
“It’s become a less partisan issue and people have been able to reach across the aisle to bring reform,” he said. “We now have a situation where eliminating the death penalty can be a vehicle of healing. Now is the time for that.”
Twenty-two states and the District of Columbia have abolished the death penalty, according to the DPIC. Three others — California, Oregon and Pennsylvania — have issued a moratorium on capital punishment.
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