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Virginia set to abolish the death penalty

Andrew Trunsky, DCNF

A bill that would abolish the death penalty passed the Virginia General Assembly on Friday, positioning the state to outlaw the practice altogether.

The bill passed the Virginia House of Delegates on Friday by a 57-41 vote, two days after clearing the state Senate by a 21-17 vote. It now heads to the desk of Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam, who has vowed to sign it into law.

“The practice is fundamentally inequitable. It is inhumane. It is ineffective,” Northam said in a statement on Wednesday. “And we know that in some cases, people on death row have been found innocent.”

If signed into law, Virginia would become the 23rd state to abolish the death penalty and the first southern state to end the practice. The first execution in the state was carried out over 400 years ago, according to the Death Penalty Information Center, when the state executed Captain George Kendall on charges of espionage.

Since then, over 1,300 people have been killed in Virginia, the most of any state in the country.

In recent years, however, executions have become less frequent. While Virginia executed 65 people in the 1990s, only eight were killed in the previous decade, according to The Virginian-Pilot, and now only two inmates remain on death row in the state. Under the new law, their sentences would be changed to life in prison.

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