Calling capital punishment a “failed government program,” 21 former and current Virginia prosecutors have called for a repeal of the state’s death penalty.
“We do not need the death penalty to harshly punish murderers,” the prosecutors said in a letter released Monday. “We do not need the death penalty to honor victims and their families.
“Our Commonwealth can move beyond this failed government program and still be stronger than ever before.”
The letter from prosecutors of both parties was released as Virginia legislators were slated to debate repeal legislation this week.
Signers of the letter included Mark Earley, a former Republican Virginia attorney general (1988-1997) who presided over 36 executions when he was in office. At least two of the letter signers were in jurisdictions where capital murder cases are pending.
Nearly two-thirds of Virginia counties have not pursued a death sentence in over 50 years, and there has been no death sentence applied anywhere in the state in over eight years.
That underlines what the prosecutors said was the “uneven” way death penalties are applied in the state and across the country.
“Numerous studies in Virginia and nationwide have shown that the death penalty most often falls on poor and minority defendants,” the prosecutors said. “We are thus concerned about the potential arbitrariness of any new death sentences in the Commonwealth.”
The letter also criticized the death penalty as “costly and inefficient.”
Prosecutorial resources “could be better directed toward assuring life imprisonment for convicted murderers, better forensic testing in criminal cases, additional support for law enforcement, and further resources for crime victims around the Commonwealth,” the prosecutors said.
The letter was announced in a press release from an anti-capital punishment advocacy group, Virginians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty.