After 400 years of the death penalty in the state that has executed more people than any other state overall, the Virginia legislature has decided to put it to rest.

Va. — The state of Virginia has recorded nearly 1,400 executions after 1608, making it the state with the largest amount of executions ever. The first execution to take place in Virginia was on December 1st, 1608 when Captain George Kendall was shot for spying. The state also has the 2nd largest execution count since 1976 of 113. It was on the decline, as in any other state, with the last execution to be carried out was almost 4 years ago. William Charles Morva was the last person executed under the jurisdiction of Virginia on July 6th, 2017. Before the abolition, only two people were on death row, but both of their sentences will get commuted to life without parole.

With other death penalty powerhouses like Texas, North Carolina, and Alabama, they all have one thing in common. The states listed, along with others, make up the former confederacy. Another thing common between the former confederate states is that all of them have retained the death penalty through and through. Virginia changed that statistic today.

“With what Governor Northam is about to do in a few minutes is he is going to restore Virginia to its position of leadership, not just in the country but also in the world. as a society, as a government that values civil rights, that values your rights against the government, that values things like your rights to trial by jury and your right to confrontation and your right to be notified of what you’re being charged with.” — Senator Scott Surovell (D-Fairfax) on his point of view of Governor Ralph Northam’s decision to sign the death penalty repeal bill into law.


With increasing numbers of Democratic legislative members over the years, support for the death penalty in Virginia has declined. Multiple attempts have been made to abolish it, but all have failed. It wasn’t until State Senate member Scott Surovell, a Democrat, introduced S.B. 1165, a.k.a. the death penalty repeal bill, into the legislature on January 8th of this year. It came with the overwhelming support of the Democratic-led Senate, with some Republican members in support of abolition as well.

Senate member Scott Surovell (D-Fairfax, left) and Senate Minority Leader Tommy Norment (R-James city, right)
Senator Scott Surovell (D-Fairfax, left) converses with Senate Minority Leader Tommy Norment (R-James City, right) during the Senate floor session in Virginia when S.B. 1165 was argued. PHOTO COURTESY: Bob Brown for the Richmond Times-Dispatch

Governor Ralph Northam, way before the bill was fully approved, had already agreed to sign it. The bill started making its way through the senate along with its duplicate bill in the House of Delegates, H.B. 2263. It arrived at the full Senate Floor for argument on February 3rd where the bill passed with a relatively close 21–17 vote.

At this rate, it was almost certain it would pass the House of Delegates considering both have a Democratic majority and the vote was Democrat-led. Two days later, the house bill reached the House of Delegates and was passed with a 57–41 vote in favor.

There was a little predicament between the two bills as they weren’t exact replicas. The differences were sorted out and Virginia lawmakers approved of the bill, thus sending it to Governor Northam’s desk for his signature on February 22nd. He was given a deadline of March 31st to sign it and today, one week before the deadline, he followed through.


Bearing in mind the fact that Virginia is the first state in the former confederacy to abolish its death penalty, it may have a big impact on other states that still authorize it. It may also show as a message to the other states in the former confederacy to follow suit.

The gurney used to execute inmates by Lethal Injection in Virginia.
An undated file photo of Virginia’s designated lethal injection room in Jarratt, Virginia. PHOTO COURTESY: Virginia Department of Corrections.

With the decline of the death penalty in America, many states are getting closer to abolition. For instance, Nevada hasn’t executed a death-row inmate in nearly 15 years and support of the death penalty there is declining. It’s not for certain what will happen next in terms of whether execution numbers go up or down but it’s obvious that the death penalty in America isn’t going away for a while. To say the least, this move will have a big impact, not just on U.S. history, but on the states as well.

“…and today, we start a new chapter. Embracing the possibility of a new, evidence-based approach to public safety. One that values the dignity of all human beings and is focused on transforming the justice system into one that is rooted in fairness, accountability, and redemption.” — Lakeisha Cook during the signing ceremony.

400 years of a long and controversial history have come to a closing, the death penalty is no more in Virginia.

An image from a live stream of Governor Ralph Northam (front) of Virginia signing the death penalty repeal bill.



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