Home Virginia Politics The Failure of Virginia’s Death Penalty

The Failure of Virginia’s Death Penalty


Gov. Bob McDonnell refused to intervene last night in the scheduled execution of a Virginia woman. She was convicted of being the “mastermind” of a murder scheme even though her IQ was tested at 72. Gov. McDonnell was so proud of this decision, he announced it at 7:01pm on a Friday night.

That someone just two IQ points away from the accepted definition of mental retardation can be executed is only one of many strikes against the death penalty. One inmate on Virginia’s death row was sentenced to death based on the testimony of one man who’s since recanted. States have executed people later proven innocent. (There are many other cases I could list here, feel free to list your most outrageous one in comments.)

But far & away the biggest strike is that the death penalty so utterly fails to serve its stated purpose — crime deterrence. Virginia is #2 in executions since 1976, but our murder rate in 2008 was 23rd-highest among states. There’s no evidence of a historical trend, either — all those executions didn’t stop a spike in Virginia’s murder rate from 1987-1997. As Amnesty International reports:

A September 2000 New York Times survey found that during the last 20 years, the homicide rate in states with the death penalty has been 48 to 101 percent higher than in states without the death penalty. FBI data shows that all 14 states without capital punishment in 2008 had homicide rates at or below the national rate.

Take a look at the chart at top right. If you compare Virginia to states without the death penalty, Virginia’s murder rate is below only that of Michigan. We’re safer than Detroit! Hooray … ?

And there’s the whole thing about how maybe in the year 2010, our government shouldn’t be sanctioning killing anyone. Haven’t we evolved past “an eye for an eye”? Not in Virginia.

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