Virginia poised to abolish death penalty

The abolition of the death penalty has advanced in Virginia, with the State Senate’s passage of a bill backed by the Virginia Catholic Conference.

The death penalty repeal bill passed the Senate by a 21-17 vote Feb. 3. All Democrats voted in favor of the bill, while no Republicans did. One Republican abstained.

“Only a few years ago, the Virginia Catholic Conference and partnering advocates were fighting against proposals to expand capital punishment. Many of you took action on those alerts,” the Catholic conference said Jan. 13. “Now, we are excited to be moving in the opposite direction, with bipartisan support growing for ending Virginia’s death penalty.”

The bill, S.B. 1165, was sponsored by Democratic Sen. Scott Surovell. He cited concerns that racial minorities and people with diminished mental capacity are disproportionately sentenced to death. There are estimates that 1 in 10 people sentenced to death in the U.S. had been wrongly convicted.

“I cannot think of anything that’s more awful, unspeakable and wrong for a government to do than to use its power to execute somebody who didn’t commit the crime they’re accused of,” Surovell told the Washington Post.

The bill has the support of Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam and is expected to pass the Democrat-controlled General Assembly.

Republican State Sen. William M. Stanley Jr. had co-sponsored the bill, but abstained. He had proposed an unsuccessful amendment to require life without parole for capital offenses, the Washington Post reports. Three Senate Republicans said they would have supported the bill with such an amendment.

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