(Reuters) - Virginia, which over the centuries has executed more prisoners than any other U.S. state, took a big step on Friday toward abolishing the death penalty, a sign of waning public support for capital punishment across the country.
The state’s Democratic-led House of Delegates voted 57-41 in favor of the measure to end the practice. The Senate passed it earlier this week, and Governor Ralph Northam, a Democrat, said he would sign the repeal into law.
Virginia, which last carried out an out an execution in 2017, has conducted 1,390 since 1608, when it was a British colony. Texas, which became a U.S. state in 1846, is in second place with 68 fewer executions than Virginia.
Two men remain on Virginia’s death row, including Thomas Porter, who was convicted of killing a police officer in 2005.
During deliberations on Thursday and Friday, several Republican lawmakers said the death penalty should retained for the most serious crimes.
“It’s not about revenge, it’s not about retribution. Ultimately, it’s about justice,” Republican Delegate Jason Miyares said on Friday.
Some Democratic lawmakers said they support abolishing the punishment because it is disproportionately used against Black people. The risk of executing of a person wrongly convicted also warrants the death penalty’s abolition, they said.
Democratic lawmaker Kathleen Murphy said her brother was murdered years ago and one of his killers is still on death row, but she would vote to repeal.
“People are put to death, more often, because of the color of their skin than because they are the real criminal who was involved in the crime,” she said on Thursday. “And there are no do-overs.”
Public support for capital punishment has declined in the United States. According to Gallup, support has dropped from 80% in the 1990 to 55% in 2020.
Abolition is also under consideration at the national level.
Former President Donald Trump, a Republican, resumed the execution of prisoners on federal death row last summer after a 17-year hiatus, killing 13 people convicted of murder. In the previous six decades, the federal government carried out only three executions. Last year was the first time the U.S. government executed more people than all 50 state governments combined.
Democrat Joe Biden took office last month as the first U.S. president to commit to seeking to abolish the federal death penalty. Congressional lawmakers are asking him to support bills that would repeal the death penalty.
Most countries have abolished capital punishment, and the United Nations has long called for a moratorium on executions and urged its abolition worldwide.
Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Chicago and Jonathan Allen in New York; Editing by Leslie Adler and David Gregorio
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