Virginia just became the first southern state to abolish the death penalty

Ralph NorthamAlex Wong/Getty ImagesVirginia Gov. Ralph Northam in October, 2020.
  • Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam signed into law a bill abolishing the death penalty.
  • In doing so, Northam, a Democrat, made Virginia the first southern state to ban it.
  • Virginia will become the 23rd state in the US to abolish the death penalty.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, a Democrat, signed legislation Wednesday abolishing the death penalty in the state, marking Virginia the first state in the US south to ban it.

The bill abolishing the death penalty in Virginia passed the state’s House of Delegates and Senate in February. Northam’s signed the legislation into law at the Greensville Correctional Center in Jarratt, Virginia, at 2 p.m. Wednesday.

In a statement, Claire GastaƱaga the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia celebrated Northam’s signing of the law and acknowledged the “many decades of hard work” that led to the signing.

“The disparate enforcement of the death penalty is one more way the criminal legal system has devalued Black lives, and ending the death penalty is a victory in the pursuit of racial justice,” GastaƱaga said.

Jayne Barnard, the Vice President of Virginians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, said the signing represented a “historic day for Virginia.”

“Criminal justice funding for expensive capital murder trials can now be better spent on much needed and currently underfunded support programs that help victims’ families with funeral costs, counseling, and other services,” Barnard, said.

According to the Death Penalty Information Center, before Wednesday, 22 US states and Washington, DC had abolished the death penalty, including Alaska, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.

In addition to the federal death penalty and the death penalty in the US Military, 28 states still allow it. Three states – California, Oregon, and Pennsylvania – at present have halted their death penalty through mandates by the governors of the states, though haven’t abolished it entirely, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

While the federal death penalty is still legal, President Joe Biden is the first sitting US president to openly oppose the federal death penalty and called to end it during his presidential campaign, even though he previously supported it as a US senator.

Since Biden took office, the Justice Department hasn’t carried out any federal executions. In the final six months of Donald Trump’s presidency, his administration carried out a record number of executions, killing 13 death row inmates.

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