A guard walks up to the entrance of the Greensville Correctional Center in Jarratt, Virginia, US. File/AFP
Virginia on Wednesday became the first southern US state to abolish the death penalty and the 23rd state in the country to end capital punishment.
Democratic Governor Ralph Northam signed legislation repealing the death penalty in Virginia, saying it was “the moral thing to do.”
Virginia is the first of the southern states that made up the Confederacy during the 1861-65 US Civil War to eliminate capital punishment.
Virginia has carried out more executions — nearly 1,400 — than any other of the 50 US states since its founding as a colony in the early 1600s.
Northam signed the bill ending the death penalty at the Greensville Correctional Center in Jarratt, Virginia, which houses the state’s execution chamber.
A total of 102 people have been executed at Greensville since it opened in 1991. Virginia last carried out an execution in 2017.
“Signing this new law is the right thing to do,” Northam said. “It is the moral thing to do to end the death penalty in the Commonwealth of Virginia.”
“Virginia’s history — we have much to be proud of — but not the history of capital punishment,” he said.
The governor described the use of the death penalty in Virginia as “fundamentally flawed” and racially biased.
“Virginia has come within days of executing innocent people, and Black defendants have been disproportionately sentenced to death,” he said.
“We know that the system doesn’t always get it right,” he said. “We can’t give out the ultimate punishment without being 100 percent sure that we’re right.”
Northam said that in the 20th century, 296 of the 377 defendants executed in Virginia for murder were Black.
He cited studies that found a defendant is more than three times as likely to be sentenced to death if the victim of a crime is white than if the victim is Black.
The European Union applauded what it called the latest step in a growing trend to abandon capital punishment.
“The death penalty is incompatible with human dignity and the right to life, constitutes inhuman and degrading treatment, and does not have any proven deterrent effect,” the bloc said in a statement.
Life sentences for Death Row inmates
The Virginia House of Delegates voted 57-41 last month to end capital punishment, two days after the state Senate approved a similar bill.
Virginia has conducted the second-most executions after Texas since the US Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976.
The state housed the capital of the pro-slavery South during the Civil War and was also the site of numerous lynchings of African Americans.
The two prisoners currently on Death Row in Virginia will have their sentences converted to life without parole.
The death penalty has now been abolished in 23 states, while three others — California, Oregon and Pennsylvania — have observed a moratorium on its use.
Overall, US states carried out seven executions last year, with many opting to suspend the use of capital punishment because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
At the same time, former president Donald Trump’s administration resumed federal executions and put 13 federal inmates to death between July 2020 and his departure from the White House in January.
Trump’s successor, Joe Biden, has pledged to abolish the federal death penalty.
The shooter was also killed after an extended gun battle with responding officers, in a scene that "best could be described as a war zone," Virginia Beach police chief James Cervera told a news conference.
The accident happened just before 8am on Sunday on westbound Interstate 63 in York County near Williamsburg, Virginia State Police Sgt. Michelle Anaya said. No fatalities were reported, but it took crews hours to clear the roadway and reopen all lanes of traffic.
Officer Joe Gutierrez was terminated from his employment after an investigation determined he did not follow policies of the local police department, the town of Windsor, Virginia said in a statement.
Sheikh Mohammed also announced the new government strategic approach that will lay the foundations of work for the next 50 years.
Sheikh Mohammed wrote on Twitter: "Brothers and sisters... after consulting with my brother Mohamed Bin Zayed and the President of the State, we announce today the new ministerial formation of the federal government in the UAE... and with the new formation we also announce a new methodology for the federal government work for the fifty."
"We have given at least one dose of the vaccine to more than 91 per cent (of adults) and 39 per cent have got both,” Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan told reporters. "There was also a sharp decrease in hospitalisations and the rate of reinfection is also on the decline..."