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Repeal of Virginia’s death penalty headed to governor’s desk

Virginia Senate passes bill to get rid of death penalty

RICHMOND, Va. – State lawmakers have given final approval to a bill ending capital punishment in Virginia. Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam is expected to sign the legislation that lawmakers gave final approval Monday.

It’s a dramatic turnaround for a state that has executed more people in its history than any other state.

Virginia’s new Democratic majority pushed the repeal effort, arguing that the death penalty has been applied disproportionately to people of color, the mentally ill and the indigent.

Rachel Sutphin is the daughter of slain Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office Corporal Eric Sutphin. Since 2017 she had dedicated energy to abolishing the death penalty.

“Coming to this moment is definitely a moment that I treasure and it is something that could not have been possible in the past years,” Sutphin said. “I am very thankful for the senators and delegates for passing this bill but especially for those who have worked across party lines to ensure that that is a bipartisan supported bill.”

Some republicans raised concerns about justice for victims, and said some perpetrators deserve to be executed for especially heinous crimes. If signed into law, the legislation would make Virginia the 23rd state to stop executions.

One of those republicans, Sen. David Suetterlein of Roanoke County, argued for a substitute bill before the vote. He drew a comparison to recently approved mandatory minimums for littering with removing a mandatory death sentence.

“Why you do not see there should be a guaranteed response from the Commonwealth for that when just five days ago for such a minor offense we got that as a body,” Suetterlein said.

Crossing the finish line in Virginia is just the first step for Sutphin. She and others are hopeful that the Biden administration will be receptive to their efforts to outlaw the death penalty at the federal level, and she said she’ll be there to help.

“How can we tell other states our story and show the way of what we did and how it has impacted murder victim families,” Sutphin said.