Virginia Becomes First Southern State to Abolish the Death Penalty

March 24, 2021 | Virginia became the 23rd U.S. state to abolish capital punishment after Governor Ralph Northam signed bipartisan death penalty repeal legislation into law. The commonwealth is the fourth state in as many years to outlaw the practice, and the first southern state to ever do so. 

“The end of Virginia’s death penalty signifies the growing consensus that capital punishment is a flawed and morally bankrupt system that violates the sanctity of human life. From the pews to the pulpit, many Virginia Catholics were persistent advocates who paved the way for the commonwealth’s abolition of the death penalty.”

Krisanne Vaillancourt Murphy, Executive Director of CMN

Historically, Virginia once was one of the most active death penalty states. It was known for executing people quickly, having the shortest time on average between issuing a death sentence and carrying out an execution.

The commonwealth is also the former “home of the confederacy,” with a long history of slavery, lynching, and systemic racism. We know our modern U.S. death penalty system to be a direct byproduct of these legacies of racial violence. An increasing awareness of these linkages has contributed to the loudening national calls for abolition.

Many anti-death penalty advocates are hopeful that Virginia’s repeal will signal to other southern states that the death penalty is an immoral and racist relic that deserves complete eradication.


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