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This week, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam signed a bill into law abolishing the death penalty in the state that has executed more people than any other state in the nation.
The bill passed the Democratic-controlled state House and Senate back in February. It was signed on Wednesday at the Greensville Correctional Center, where the state holds its execution chamber.
“It is the moral thing to do to end the death penalty in the Commonwealth of Virginia,” said Northam. “The death penalty is fundamentally flawed.”
Since the state’s first execution in 1608, no state has executed more people. The U.S. Supreme Court reinstated capital punishment in 1976, and since then, only Texas has executed more people.
The death penalty disproportionately impacts people of color with more than 40% of people on death row being Black. During debates last month on the House floor, Democratic delegate Jay Jones said “the death penalty is the direct descendant of lynching. It is state-sponsored racism, and we have an opportunity to end this today.”
The other issue opponents of the death penalty raise is the amount of people that are exonerated from death row. According to the Death Penalty Information Center, 185 people have been exonerated from their death sentences since 1974. In that same time frame, there’ve been 1,532 executions. That means that roughly 9% of people on death row are later proven innocent, some after their death.
The two people currently on death row in Virginia will have their sentences changed to life in prison without parole since they were over 18 at the time of their offense.
To see if your state has abolished the death penalty or not, click here.