Senate clears way to abolish death penalty in Virginia

Sen. Scott Surovell – General Assembly photo
Sen. Jennifer Boysko – General Assembly photo
Sen. Mark Obenshain – General Assembly photo
Sen. Richard Stuart – General Assembly photo

BY EMMA PHELPS
STAFF WRITER
THE CAPITAL NEWS SERVICE

The Senate voted 21-17 Wednesday to end the death penalty in Virginia.

Sen. Scott Surovell, D-Mount Vernon, was the patron of the bill, SB 1165, with Sen. Jennifer Boysko, D-Herndon, who both spoke in favor of the bill this afternoon.

This vote came after the Senate voted Tuesday against an amendment proposed by Sen. Thomas Norment, R-Williamsburg, which would have replaced the death penalty with a life sentence without parole.

Surovell listed six reasons imploring his colleagues to support the bill among them included the issue of transparency in Virginia’s Sunlight laws, the fiscal cost of maintaining the death penalty and the “indisputable connection” between the death penalty and racial oppression, he said.

Boysko asked colleagues on the other side of the aisle to look at the bill from a different perspective.

“Killing another person is not going to bring them back,” she said.

Among those who spoke against the bill were Sen. Richard Stuart, R-Montross, Sen. Amanda Chase, R-Chesterfield, and Sen. Mark Obenshain, R-Harrisonburg.

“We need to look at how its [capital punishment] being applied now,” Obenshain said. “It’s reserved for the worst of the worst.”

Chase spoke with concern for the families of murder victims.

 “Who do we support more, the victim or the killer?”  she asked.

Many of the senators who spoke against the bill echoed their beliefs that the death penalty is rarely used in Virginia’s justice system today. Multiple senators also shared the sentiment that the death penalty needs to be reserved for the most extreme murder cases.

Stuart said, “There are some people are so rotten to the core that you can’t do anything with them, and you have to protect members of society from them.”

Several Senate Democrats also spoke on the floor in favor of the bill.

Sen. Mamie Locke, D-Hampton, referenced the work of the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, AL., which examines death penalty cases and has helped to clear people wrongly convicted and sentenced to death.

Quoting from the Equal Justice website, Locke said: “The question we need to ask about the death penalty in America is not whether someone deserves to die for a crime, but the question is whether we deserve to kill.”

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