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Virginia becomes 1st Southern state to abolish the death penalty

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) signed legislation Wednesday banning the use of capital punishment in the commonwealth, making Virginia the 23rd state to abolish the death penalty and the first member of the old Confederacy to do so. He signed the legislation at the Greensville Correctional Center near Jarratt, where Virginia had conducted its executions. The state last executed a prisoner in 2017, but Virginia’s history with capital punishment is long and deep.

“Signing this new law is the right thing to do,” Northam said Wednesday afternoon. “It is the moral thing to do.”

“There is no place today for the death penalty in this commonwealth, in the South, or in this nation,” Northam said. When he was younger, “I believed in an eye for an eye,” he said. But now he understands the system is “not fair” and “is applied differently based on who you are. And the system has gotten it wrong.”

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Virginia has executed more people over the past 400 years than any other state and lags behind only Texas in the modern era. But the state has become more liberal over the past decade, and Democrats started reflecting that swing in policies after taking control of the state legislature last year. One GOP state senator and two Republican delegates voted with all Democrats on the capital punishment repeal.