Virginia, both in state and modern history, is a highly prolific executioner. In 1608 the Jamestown colony performed America’s first execution. From 1608 to 1976 Virginia executed 1277 people. From 1982 to its last execution in July 2017, Virginia executed 113 people.
Virginia has killed more prisoners than any other state, and in 1951 made history by executing 5 prisoners in one day.
The last person to die at the hands of the state was William Charles Morva for the crimes of killing a police officer and a security guard. The execution of Morva was controversial, and generated international pleas for mercy.
While being held in a county jail for one year awaiting trial for attempted robbery, his mental health deteriorated. Morva was known for being an eccentric survivalist who walked barefoot in the forest and ate raw meat and pine cones. The young man’s defense maintained he was severally mentally ill, psychotic, and suffering from a serious delusional disorder, and the jury was unable to understand the severity of his illness. Unmedicated he was not able to properly participate in his defense.
Rachel Sutphin, the daughter of one of the murder victims supported clemency for Morva, and asked Governor Terry McAuliffe to spare his life. In a statement she said that, “I have fought and will continue to fight for clemency for all death row inmates until Virginia declares the death penalty unconstitutional.”
The execution process in Virginia is known to be expedited, and the Virginia Supreme Court has a reputation for resolving appeals very quickly. The average time from sentencing to death in the state is 7 years.
In recent years Virginia juries have been reluctant to sentence a prisoner to death. As a result, an interesting thing has happened in the state, the death row population has dwindled to 5 prisoners. (By comparison in 1995 the death row population was 57.)
There are a few reasons to account for the refusal to condemn prisoners to death.
- Improved representation from regional capital defense resource centers.
- Juries are told that a life sentence means a life sentence without parole
Garrett denounces the death penalty as a failed experiment. He says of the penalty, “States have tried everything to try to save the death penalty from itself, but the bias, both racial and geographic, is too ingrained. Lawmakers have tried to speed up executions, but have instead seen more delays and botched executions. They have tried to insist on higher-quality proof, and have still seen exonerations of innocent death row inmates.”
The death penalty in Virginia is dying, based on the will of the people. Let Governor Ralph Northam know your thoughts on Virginia’s use of the death penalty.
Emailhttps://www.governor.virginia.gov/constituent-services/communicating-with-the-governors-office/ Write Governor Ralph Northam The Way Ahead P.O. Box 1475 Richmond, VA 23218 Phone804-786-2211 Facebook @GovernorVA Tweet @GovernorVA