Prosecutors call for end to death penalty in Virginia

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A group of current and former prosecutors are backing an effort to end capital punishment in Virginia.

Bills are currently being considered in the House and Senate that would abolish the death penalty, both for future prosecutions and for the three men still on death row.

No judge or jury has imposed a death sentence in Virginia since 2011.

“The death penalty is a failed government program,” the group of prosecutors wrote in a letter to legislators that went out today. “When the modern death penalty era began in 1976, lawmakers and prosecutors envisioned a severe and consistent punishment that would keep the public safe. That has not happened.”

The group includes 21 current and former prosecutors, including two former attorneys general and nine current or previously elected Commonwealth’s attorneys.

The letter points to the financial strain of pursuing a death sentence, the lack of a clear deterrent effect on crime, and concerns regarding wrongful convictions.

In the letter, the group urges legislators to support the “more cost-effective, constitutional” alternative of life in prison without the possibility of parole, stating that “[w]e do not need the death penalty to harshly punish murderers.”

Several of the signers have prosecuted capital cases. Mark Earley, a Republican who served as Virginia’s attorney general from 1998 to 2001, presided over 36 executions during his tenure. Mike Herring, a Democrat who recently left office as the Richmond Commonwealth’s attorney and has both prosecuted and defended those accused of capital murder, also supports the repeal .

Two statewide groups led the effort to organize prosecutor support for repeal. Justice Forward Virginia was founded in 2017 and promotes numerous criminal justice system reforms, including an end to capital punishment in the Commonwealth. Virginians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty has existed since 1991 and seeks an end to the death penalty through education, organizing, and advocacy.

Story by Chris Graham


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