All four Democrats running for governor in Virginia say they support abolishing the death penalty, including one candidate, former Gov. Terry McAuliffe, who allowed several executions to proceed during his term.
While in office, McAuliffe said he personally opposed capital punishment but felt obligated to uphold state law. The three executions that took place in McAuliffe’s term included William Morva, who was put to death in July 2017 for a double-murder despite pleas for clemency from advocates who said Morva suffered from mental illness.
Since a national moratorium on the death penalty ended in 1976, Virginia has executed 113 people, second only to Texas, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.
The Democratic takeover of the Virginia General Assembly in 2019 raised death penalty opponents’ hopes it would soon be ended, but repeal bills failed to pass in the 2020 legislative session. If repeal legislation doesn’t pass in 2021, it could fall to the next governor to decide whether the death penalty should or shouldn’t continue.
In a primary field where all candidates are laying claim to progressive ideals despite their differing records, the answer was unanimous.
“Terry’s position is clear: he personally opposes the death penalty and as governor, he would sign legislation to abolish it in the commonwealth,” said McAuliffe spokesman Jake Rubenstein, adding McAuliffe “was bound to uphold the laws of the commonwealth” while dealing with death penalty cases from 2014 to 2018.
In a statement, former Del. Jennifer Carroll Foy said the death penalty “takes the lives of innocent people and disproportionately takes the lives of people of color.”
“The next governor of Virginia must understand that the death penalty is a stain on the moral fabric of our society,” Carroll Foy said. “It must be abolished.”
Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax said “the death penalty has no place in a civilized society and should be abolished” in a statement.
The Virginia Mercury is a new, nonpartisan, nonprofit news organization covering Virginia government and policy.