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Virginia Legislators Abolish the Death Penalty

February 25, 2021

Viatorians join with members of the Conference of Major Superiors of Men in applauding the state of Virginia for taking a stand against the death penalty.

Virginia made news this week as the first southern state to abolish the death penalty. The state has a long history of capital punishment and, according to the Catholic Mobilizing Network, holds the “infamous record of the most persons executed by a state in US history.” At the beginning of February, lawmakers voted to end this practice and Gov. Ralph Northam is expected to sign it soon.

Journalists note that prosecutors have stopped seeking the death penalty in recent years and the last person executed in the state was in 2017. At that time, Virginia’s Catholic bishops re-affirmed their call for the “practice to be abandoned,” recognizing that all lives have dignity and should be able to proceed to a natural death.

The push for full abolition in Virginia has gained momentum as people recognize the relationship between the death penalty and racism. As the executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center is quoted in the Washington Post, “From 1900 to 1969, he said, Virginia did not execute a single White person for any offense that did not result in death, while 73 Black men were executed for rape, attempted rape or robbery.” The uprisings in the summer of 2020 raised significant awareness about the discriminatory use of capital punishment and are credited in this last push to end it.