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Ethics & Religion
March 2, 2021
Column #2,064
Stop Executions for Murder
By Mike McManus

Virginia's Legislature voted last week to stop executions for murder. Every state should follow Virginia's example.

Why? The states which do not execute for murder - have the lowest murder rates in America. For example, all of New England, which has eliminated the killing of those convicted of murder - have murder rates that are about one-third that of many other states.

  • For example, the murder rate of Connecticut was 2.3 killings per 100,000 people in 2018 and Maine is only 1.8. New England as a whole stands at 2.0.
  • Compare that to a 6.9 rate in Illinois and 6.5 in Indiana. That is more than triple the rate of New England!
  • Georgia's rate is 6.1 and South Carolina, 7.7. And Virginia's rate was 4.6 - more than double that of New England - an excellent reason for the state to end executions as voted by Virginia's Legislature.
  • Virginia was the 11th state in 16 years to abolish the death penalty. Capital punishment has ended in all of New England and in the mid-Atlantic states. With Virginia's repeal, all states north of the Carolinas will have abolished executions.

The election of Tim Kaine as Virginia's governor in 2005, who had represented death row clients and who campaigned as an opponent of the death penalty - was an indication that things were changing in the state.

Larry Sabato, a political analyst at the University of Virginia, has said that for decades after the U.S. Supreme Court allowed capital punishment to resume in 1976, "outside of a few liberal pockets and Black leadership - support for the death penalty was strong."

Frank Green of the Richmond Times Dispatch writes, "Although none of the persons executed by Virginia in modern times has been proven innocent, DNA definitely proved that Earl Washington Jr., who came within days of execution had nothing to do with a 1982 rape and murder in Culpeper."

"It was Washington's case that ultimately made it possible for people with newly discovered evidence of innocence to get it before a Virginia court."

Green reported that Virginia's so-called "21-day rule" largely barred the court from considering any evidence of innocence three weeks after the case was over. The rule once prompted former Virginia Attorney General Mary Sue Terry to famously say, "Evidence of innocence is irrelevant."

Virginia conducted its first execution in modern times on Aug. 27, 1982 when Frank J. Coppola, a former altar boy and police officer, who became a killer, died in the electric chair at the former Virginia State Penitentiary in Richmond. A huge throng of media and candle-carrying protestors waited outside.

Virginia's execution team was led by Richmond native, Jerry B. Givens, who went on to conduct more than 60 others for the Department of Corrections.

However, he asserted, "I prayed for them. I told them that they had to get themselves together because at 11 o'clock they were going to see their maker or going elsewhere."

Interestingly, however, Givens came to oppose the death penalty.

Givens, who has since died, said he wanted them to "go out with some dignity and that's what we did."

In 1994, Virginia death row inmates were given a choice between lethal injection and the electric chair.

In at least two Virginia cases, pending executions divided families. Maria Hines, a former nun, opposed the execution of Dennis Wayne Eaton, who killed four people, including her brother, Virginia State trooper Jerry L. Hines, during an eight hour rampage. Other family survivors of Hines felt the punishment was just, and planned to witness the execution in 1998.

More recently, Rachel Sutphin, the daughter of Montgomery County Virginia Deputy Sherriff Eric E. Sutphin, one of two people slain by William C. Morva, opposed Morva's 2017 execution and has since campaigned for ending the death penalty.

Thank goodness, she has been successful in Virginia.

Other states should follow Virginia and New England's leadership. Why? States without a death penalty have much lower murder rates, as proven above.


Copyright (c)2021 Michael J. McManus, a syndicated columnist and past president of Marriage Savers. To read past columns, go to Hit Search for any topic.


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