When I say I am pro-life, that means I value the dignity and sanctity of every human life. To be consistently in favor of life I have to make the hard choices too, which means even valuing the life of someone who has committed a heinous crime. For that reason, I support abolishing the death penalty in Virginia.
I have listened with open ears to subject matter experts who argue that the death penalty serves as a deterrent to heinous murders, and for years I have looked for data driven evidence to support that as accurate. I cannot find anything but anecdotal evidence. There is evidence, however, in our neighbor states like Maryland and North Carolina, that the financial cost of the death penalty sentence is vastly higher than the cost to society for a life in prison sentence. In addition to the sentence itself, the same report details the astronomical cost to the state for the trials of these individuals.
Everything I know about prison - from the loss of individual freedom, to the violence and the hopelessness that exists behind bars - makes me believe the sentence of life in prison could actually be worse than the death penalty, if it really means life in prison. For these reasons, I supported the substitute offered to SB 1165 by Senator Bill Stanley. This substitute would have not only abolished the death penalty, but would have also required a mandatory life sentence, no chance of parole, for anyone convicted of aggravated murder. Unfortunately, this substitute failed, and so too did the Senate in making the right decision.
In order to fully abolish the death penalty, Virginia would have to have additional policies surrounding that decision. Meaning, that even in the current climate of criminal justice reform, we have to eliminate the possibility of parole for those who have committed the most heinous crimes.
What we couldn’t have, for instance, is what we saw happen last year with the parole of Vincent Martin. Vincent Martin was first arrested in 1972 for two robberies, resulting in at least one person being shot. After being released the first time, Martin was convicted again in 1980 for the murder of a Richmond police officer. Last year, because of COVID, he was granted parole. It is an unacceptable alternative to capital punishment to keep giving violent criminals another chance when they have shown they do not deserve it.
In order to represent the interests of victims, their families, my constituents, and members of law enforcement, I need to be confident that in removing the death penalty, we also ensure that someone who has committed capital murder does not have the privilege of parole. Ever.
I am disappointed in how the Senate handled this very serious issue because there was a real opportunity for a bipartisan effort.