syringe and handcuffs on legal desk
Virginia will officially become the 23rd state to abolish the death penalty.

Earlier this month Virginia lawmakers voted to abolish the death penalty, making Virginia the 23rd state to abolish the death penalty and the first southern state to do so.

The move represents a striking break from Virginia's past – it was the site of the first execution on U.S. soil, and has executed more individuals than any other state.

And while the bill was expected to pass, there was still a lively debate from both advocates and opposers of the death penalty, with both sides claiming the moral high ground. 

A Moral Debate

“There are many arguments for why we should abolish the death penalty. These arguments touch on everything from the moral implications of the death penalty, to the racial bias in how it is applied, to its ineffectiveness, to the extraordinary cost,” said Delegate Mike Mullin, one of the bill’s sponsors.

“But perhaps the strongest argument for abolishing the death penalty is that a justice system without the death penalty allows us the possibility of being wrong.”

He was referencing the case of Earl Washington Jr., which weighed heavily on the minds of many lawmakers voting to abolish. In 1984, Washington was wrongfully convicted of a rape and murder that DNA evidence later proved he did not commit.

Washington's I.Q. was 69, and it was determined his confession was coerced by investigating officers. He is the only death row exoneree in Virginia history.

Many Democrats also noted the disproportionate number of African-Americans sentenced to death, with Delegate Jay Jones calling it “the direct descendant of lynching,” and “state-sponsored racism.”

Fair Punishment?

However, the other side of the aisle is largely opposed ditching the death penalty, and insists that allowing those committing heinous crimes to live is itself a miscarriage of justice.

Citing Virginia's two current death row inmates, Republican Rob Bell argued that “we have five dead Virginians that this bill will make sure that their killers will not receive justice.”

One Republican, Jason S. Miyares, even held up photos of those victims, drawing a direct juxtaposition between their brutal deaths and their killers remaining alive in prison.

“The evil that was practiced on these victims — they did not die with a last meal, they didn’t die with the benefit of their priest or pastor or rabbi. They didn’t die in the comfort of a hospital bed,” he said. “They died with sheer terror on their hearts.”

Faithful Divided

But morality wasn't the only driving force. Both sides of the debate also invoked faith in defense of their position.

In January, candlelight vigils were held across the state in support of ending the death penalty. “As someone who was raised Catholic, the idea that all people are created in the image and likeness of God is a phrase that is indelible in my brain,” one vigilgoer said.

This view is shared by Church leadership. Back in 2018, Pope Francis declared the death penalty is “inadmissable in all cases” due to its assault on the “dignity of the person.”

Across the state, however, letters-to-the-editor rolled in to every major newspaper and news outlet in defense of capital punishment – many with religious justifications for the policy.

The Roanoke Times published a letter citing Romans 13, often understood as a defense of capital punishment. That passage states:

"For it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil."

Virginia's governor is set to sign to bill into law, but the debate over the morality of capital punishment is hardly over.

What do you think – is the death penalty morally defensible? Is abolishing capital punishment an injustice to victims of violent crimes, or is the state simply never justified in killing human beings?

40 comments

  1. Ren's Avatar Ren

    As we consider the Sanctity of ALL Life, please also consider how will you, as a supporter of Capital Punishment, give life back to Sedley Alley? Anyone and everyone who supports the Death Penalty is responsible for the murder of Sedley Alley. So how do you intend to give April Alley her father back?

    https://innocenceproject.org/9-key-facts-about-sedley-alley-denied-dna-testing-before-execution/

    There is no argument. Putting Scripture in contemporary terms, Jn 8:7 says clearly "So when they continued asking him, he lifted up himself, and said unto them, He that is without sin among you, let him first push the plunger/pull the lever/pull the trigger/flip the switch/cast the first stone at her/him."

    And who is without sin? According to 1Jn 1:8, any who claims to be without sin is deluded. Your contention that it is the State doing the execution and not the individual is just plain wrong as the context of Jn 8:7 was "the State" executing an accused victim. Even though it was "the State" that was performing the execution, The Christ himself put it on the individuals acting for the State.

    It was previously claimed that Romans 13 gives the State the authority to impose Capital Punishment. The trouble is that it does not. Capital Punishment is not mentioned even once. claiming that Rm 13 supports the Death Penalty is going beyond what is written (1Cor 4:6) especially in light of what Scripture actually does say in Jn 8:7.

    Evangelicals have claimed that anyone who opposes a blanket prohibition of abortion is responsible for murder. It therefore follows by that reasoning that anyone who supports the Death Penalty is also guilty of murder. So how do you as a supporter of the Death Penalty give life back to those who are wrongfully executed?

    As I said, There is no argument - just as slavery is unchristian, so is the Death Penalty. The difference between the two is that the Scriptures don't condemn slavery outright but do explicitly condemn Capital Punishment. It is an irreconcilable difference - one cannot truly support The Sanctity of Life and still claim that the Death Penalty is Scriptural.

    The Gospel of the Christ is meant as a healing salve for vaccination against sin -- NOT as a hammer to nail declarations of condemnation. It's not a matter of politics - it's a matter of morality: the morality of mortality.

  1. Lionheart's Avatar Lionheart

    The God of the Old Testament did of course condone the death penalty. He sanctioned the stoning of a man just for picking up sticks on the sabbath. A pathetic decision, but that’s the way he is/was. He killed little children just because of his attitude with Pharaoh. Major anger management problem there if ever there was one. Thank goodness we don’t have his poor morals. It’s perhaps just as well they are all old tales handed down in an old book. As there is no real evidence he is/was real it’s perhaps a good thing it’s more than likely all myth. Fortunately, most of mankind have better morals.

    🦁❤️

    1. John P Maher's Avatar John P Maher

      HEY LIONHEART it APPEARS YOU DIED in 2016 or DEAF, DUMB, and BLIND or JUST IGNORANT of FACT, OH I FORGOT, YOUR PROBABLY a G O Pig !

      1. Lionheart's Avatar Lionheart

        I assume your comment was intended to be educational in some way? It tends to look as though you might have just missed the mark in achieving that goal, but thank you very much for your attempt. We love all opinions here so that you for yours.

        🦁❤️

  1. Minister Mike's Avatar Minister Mike

    The death penalty is not justice. It is sanctioned revenge. Same for prison sentences - not justice, just "getting even".

    Better I think, to spend money on rehabilitating criminals so they don't repeat their crimes or commit new ones. Or, perhaps taking out that part of their brain that causes the antisocial behavior would work. Once convicted of a felony or any violent crime, the convict is take to a hospital where surgery is performed. Now, no one would expect the criminal to be the same, and may have a much lower IQ than when they committed the crime - but so what? Think of the money saved by doing away with prisons and harnessing a work force for the work no one else wants to do.

  1. Gail Dobson's Avatar Gail Dobson

    I agree with Minister Mike in the first part of his response: "The death penalty is not justice. It is sanctioned revenge." Presumably the convicted person is gulty of some heinous crime but how does killing him/her solve anything? The convicted does not have an opportunity to learn or be rehbilitated. The convicted does nothing and has no opportunity to recompense the surviving family, friends, or society as a whole. Remember too, the conviction could be wrong. People are wrongfully convicted far too often (https://www.politifact.com/article/2019/sep/13/cory-bookers-claim-17000-people-are-unjustly-incar/). There are more than a few who have been released after numerous years of unjust incarceration because evidence was finally examined. The truly psychotic among us need treatment (possibly lifetime care) but resonable people do not advocate killing the mentally incompetent, do they? Equitable opportunity for everyone would greatly reduce overall crime in the first place. Improve social services with money that would be spent on draconian policing and state sanctioned killing of our neighbors. (trying this again, first time seems not to have taken?)

  1. Ronaldo's Avatar Ronaldo

    Considering the multiple times innocent citizens have been put to death by the State, only to find later that they did not commit the crime, I believe the death penalty should only be applied under one condition, and only for certain crimes. That condition should be "guilty beyond all doubt". As it stands now, a man can be put to death for lack of reasonable doubt, but money and power have purchased "evidence" more than once in our history. In fact, there have been those put to death early in our nation's history when there was no physical evidence of their crimes. Testimony alone convicted many of them.

  1. John P Maher's Avatar John P Maher

    I DO NOT THINK the DEATH PENALTY HAS EVER HAD ANYTHING to DO WITH GOD, ONLY VERY CROOKED, GREEDY, EVIL, PEOPLE that USE GODs NAME in EVIL VAIN ACTS, SINFULLY USE !

  1. Catherine Ohrin-Greipp's Avatar Catherine Ohrin-Greipp

    A glaring omission among the posts on this issue is Race. Race has played a disturbing role in the death penalty’s application throughout its long history in the United States, going back to lynchings. "During slavery, and supported by Christians, discrimination was explicitly written in many states’ laws. Blacks and slaves faced the death penalty in cases where the same crime committed by a white person would not even be eligible for death. In Virginia before the Civil War, there were over 60 capital crimes for slaves but only one – murder – for whites. Executions became so closely tied to the punishment of blacks in some regions that executing a white man was..” Unequal justice has previaled through centuries. "The statistics back up these examples of racial inequity. A full 75% of those executed in the South from 1910 to 1950 were black, even though black people were less than a quarter of the South’s population.5 The racial disparities for certain crimes, such as rape, were especially stark. Of the 455 men executed for rape in the U.S. between 1930 and 1967, 90% were black." What needs to be acknowledged, and addressed is racial disparities in the broader justice system. People pretend it's about moraltiy, when in fact, it is easier for them to ignore facts of racist policies and then how Christians have supported these policies.

    1. Preacher Jim's Avatar Preacher Jim

      Everything you talk about is a least 60 years old. They are no longer relevant. There is nothing that can be done to address things that happened in the past. I would think that our thoughts should be towards the victims of these crimes and the families of same. They have to suffer a loss that others cannot even fathom. So perhaps you should redirect your sympathies in their direction.

      1. Ren's Avatar Ren

        And how does consideration of crime victims make up for false convictions (which are more likely to happen to non-whites) and wrongfully executed ?

        You have no mercy or compassion in your heart. And your refusal to acknowledge that the state makes mistakes is troubling.

        1. Preacher Jim's Avatar Preacher Jim

          For those who have received a death sentence I think you may be right about my lack of mercy and compassion for the convicted felon. My heartfelt compassion and mercy go out to the victims. As for your comment about non-whites, I wonder if that statistic could have anything to do with huge amount of black on black murders?

          1. Ren's Avatar Ren

            Your hard headed refusal to acknowledge that the state makes mistakes reveals you to be one of the goats in Mt 25

            1. Preacher Jim's Avatar Preacher Jim

              I don't think I ever said that there has never been a mistake. What I meant to convey if I wasn't clear, was that my compassion, mercy, and sympathies go out to the victims of these crimes and not to the slaughters and rapists that you seem to care more about than the people that these crimes are committed against. Matt.25, perhaps you should leave the judgement of others to a higher power.

      2. Catherine Ohrin-Greipp's Avatar Catherine Ohrin-Greipp

        Racism in the Justice system is relevant. Perhaps you should get on board and read Justice Department statistics. Of course, white people who can't face racism TODAY, always pretend it doesn't exist and say, oh that's the past. We refuse to learn from the past and it is repeated every single day.

  1. Amber Fry's Avatar Amber Fry

    I don't believe making this a simple issue of punishment is gong to help here. Rehabilitation, retraining and some base with skills that would make them a viable in society, giving them the knowledge and tools to not be resorting to whatever it is that put them there would be a much more effective and helpful reform plan. If the death penalty must be used then reserving it to the worst of the worst, the ones who are repeat violent offenders. serial killers, rapists, child molesters and the like who are clearly unable to be helped. Otherwise it would be a life of incarceration that is a drain on society. That should be the real aim of any corrections facility... I mean it's in the freakin' name for crying out loud.

    1. Ronaldo's Avatar Ronaldo

      I've studied psychology and sociology for the last 50 years, and have come to the conclusion that one thing our society lacks that it sorely needs is a system to deal with the "broken people". There are some within our society that cannot safely be around others. Multiple offense pedophiles, when caught again, often state that they cannot help themselves when asked why they committed the offenses again. Treatments we have now do not always work, and our laws do not permit us to permanently remove these repeat offenders from society. So, what do we do with them if they cannot be rehabilitated, retrained, or permanently incarcerated?

      1. Ilmenheru Terikson's Avatar Ilmenheru Terikson

        Our society actually protects sexual abusers, that is why the punishment for those crimes when not including violent assault, kidnapping, forcible imprisonment, and murder, never lead to any meaningful sentence of more then 2 years in the U.S. on average. The war on women is not just some hashtag, its a very real aspect of culture, and male privilege seeks to do all it can to keep its dominance.

        The fact we will arrest a parent for killing someone who raped their child, a very understandable and justified reaction to such an act, tells you all you need to know about which factions the law seeks to actually protect, and it is as it has always been, a tool of the land holder, the noble, to abuse and ill treat the masses. And in turn lets the poorest of men feel power over women which keeps the men content enough with the system to slave away.

  1. Kenneth E. Salvage Sr's Avatar Kenneth E. Salvage Sr

    If the death penalty is abandon in civil society as the ultimate punishment in life, should God not also abandon Hell? Isn't eternal damnation in hell for a sinner worse than death? How do you stop evil when there is no ultimate punishment? We need to keep capital punishment in case of murdering of innocents!

    1. Ren's Avatar Ren

      And just how do you give life back to those who are wrongfully execute? It's happened a number of times even in the se modern days. You are without mercy in your soul with your rush to judgment. God's justice is perfect. Man's administration of justice is not, but you talk as if it is. Only God is perfect but you seem to believe the State (created by man) is too. That's blasphemy and idolatry.

  1. Gary James Thomas Garrett's Avatar Gary James Thomas Garrett

    Should the government have the power to kill people? No.

  1. Joe R Day's Avatar Joe R Day

    I will neither quote scripture nor will I attempt to justify killing another human based on theology. There are several vetted (agnostic) research studies that show approximately 25% of humans that are on Death Row, didn't commit the crime they have been sentenced to death for. At the present count, there are 2,553 prisoners on death row in the US. Doing the math tells me there are 638 prisoners who are innocent of the crimes they were convicted of. Where is the 'Justice' in their cases? Don't assume that I am opposed to the Death Penalty, because I'm not. I support the death of those who were found at the scene, or linked inexorably through DNA to their heinous crimes. There are some who are (in my opinion) unsalvageable or who through their actions and attitudes show they are incorrigible. We put mad dogs down, yes? I feel they are in the same class. Since 1973, more than 170 people who had been wrongly convicted and sentenced to death in the U.S. have been exonerated. THAT figure is what preys on my mind, that is why I am opposed to the Death Penalty without exhausting all modern forensic testing. If our nation insists on killing people for their heinous crimes, perhaps using the power of forensic science should be a basic requirement. As of February 6, 2020, the Registry has 2,551 known exonerations in the United States since 1989. Life in prison is a hell-on-earth sentence, but Death is final. There is no 'exoneration' from Death.

  1. Daniel Gray's Avatar Daniel Gray

    God has nothing to do with this, if the state wants to abolish the death penalty then thats their business to change the laws. BUT a person who has been legally charged, tried and convicted of murder and given the death penalty in another state CANNOT run to Virginia to escape justice, the US Constitution as per Article 5 Section 1 which states and I quote

    "Article 5 Section 1

    Full Faith and Credit shall be given in each State to the public Acts, Records, and JUDICIAL Proceedings of every other State. And the Congress may by general Laws prescribe the Manner in which such Acts, Records and Proceedings shall be proved, and the Effect thereof."

    Meaning it makes no difference if one state or 10 abolish the death penalty, if a person is charged and legally tried and convicted and given the death penalty in another state, they must be returned to the state in which they received the sentence for it to be carried out. Thats why each state must recognize a drivers license or an inheritance or judgement for or against a person from another state. You want it changed then start a constitutional amendment but be warned the SCOTUS has put a minimum of 5 years to a maximum of 7 years on an amendment and if you cant get it passed inside of 7 years then it dies and cant be brought back up again. Thats why you dont have an ERA amendment as they couldnt get that passed in 10 years and thats why the SCOTUS put a time limit on amendments.

    1. Ilmenheru Terikson's Avatar Ilmenheru Terikson

      Hm DG you know at first I was going to just write off this rant as off topic.But I actually think what you are doing is being bothered by the old days when escaped slaves could get to safety by fleeing to the half way decent civilization of the northern states. And you seem to think that modern laws must force a state that is anti death penalty to send people to their deaths.

      Well shows how ignorant you are of the U.S. as several cases in which states then charged such people with life sentences that they then used to keep said prisoners in their state and safe from execution. Canada has done this as well several times, most recently a few years ago.

      You see when one sentence would prevent another from being carried out, then a state can indeed call dibs over another states desire to just kill the convicted.

      But otherwise yep your post is the typical rant that tries to portray itself as that of one learned but is only proof to how you try to pretend the world is the way you imagine it is rather then the way it really is. Typical magical thinking BS from another insular looney.

    2. Ren's Avatar Ren

      SCOTUS doesn't put any time limit on amendments. The ERA has a deadline written into the text itself. But unless there is a deadline in the text, there is none.

      You don't know as much about the constitution and law as you claim.

    3. Ren's Avatar Ren

      It is NOT within SCOTUS authority to impose any sort of deadline on ratification of amendments. The ERA had a deadline written into the text of the amendment itself. You clearly don't know as much about the constitution as you claim. Your post here is hypocritical to your comments in other threads where you claim that there is no separation between church and state.

    4. Ren's Avatar Ren

      Your comment here is incorrect and hypocritical. You claim elsewhere that there is no separation between church and state. Also, The SCOTUS doesn't have the authority to impose deadlines on the ratification of amendments - in the case of the ERA, the deadline was written into the text of the ERA itself. You don't understand the constitution or American jurisprudence as well as you would like us to think you do.

  1. Stanley Alan Marchand's Avatar Stanley Alan Marchand

    Always bear in mind you could be killing a completely innocent person. If you could not administer the drug of death yourself then that should be your answer.

  1. Ren's Avatar Ren

    Mr. Gray, your comment here is incorrect and hypocritical. You claim elsewhere that there is no separation between church and state. Also, The SCOTUS doesn't have the authority to impose deadlines on the ratification of amendments - in the case of the ERA, the deadline was written into the text of the ERA itself. You don't understand the constitution or American jurisprudence as well as you would like us to think you do.

  1. David Witenstein's Avatar David Witenstein

    pope Francis is a false prophet and the reason for many studied Catholics to leave and start their own church. It's Martin Luther replayed.

    1. Catherine Ohrin-Greipp's Avatar Catherine Ohrin-Greipp

      What evidence do you have that Pope Francis is a "false prophet"?? He has never claimed to be a prophet. He is the recognized leader of the Roman Catholic Church in Vatican City, Rome. I guess you know who or what a "real prophet" is? Ridiculous.

  1. Victor Allen Wunschel's Avatar Victor Allen Wunschel

    That commandment is perhaps the most misquoted of all time. It said not to commit murder. Killing in defense of yourself, family, so forth, is not a sin and never was a sin. How do you justify being in the military if the commandment was literally Thou Shalt Not Kill, it's absurd. The death penalty in my humble opinion is not effective as a deterrent, so perhaps hard labor ought to make a comeback?!?

  1. Joe R Day's Avatar Joe R Day

    I will neither quote scripture nor will I attempt to justify killing another human based on theology. There are several vetted (agnostic) research studies that show approximately 25% of humans that are on Death Row, didn't commit the crime they have been sentenced to death for. At the present count, there are 2,553 prisoners on death row in the US. Doing the math tells me there are 638 prisoners who are innocent of the crimes they were convicted of. Where is the 'Justice' in their cases? Don't assume that I am opposed to the Death Penalty, because I'm not. I support the death of those who were found at the scene, or linked inexorably through DNA to their heinous crimes. There are some who are (in my opinion) unsalvageable or who through their actions and attitudes show they are incorrigible. We put mad dogs down, yes? I feel they are in the same class. Since 1973, more than 170 people who had been wrongly convicted and sentenced to death in the U.S. have been exonerated. THAT figure is what preys on my mind, that is why I am opposed to the Death Penalty without exhausting all modern forensic testing. If our nation insists on killing people for their heinous crimes, perhaps using the power of forensic science should be a basic requirement. As of February 6, 2020, the Registry has 2,551 known exonerations in the United States since 1989. Life in prison is a hell-on-earth sentence, but Death is final. There is no 'exoneration' from Death.

  1. Richard Lee Cornell's Avatar Richard Lee Cornell

    Mass murders will be overjoy to have another State where they can practice their trade. A death penalty stops a lot of normal people to just go out and kill for the fun of it. It is giving any 12 year old who wants to kill someone the ability to do it without fear that if they are caught then it becomes a slap on the wrist. Instead when they reach 18 they swing.

    1. Ilmenheru Terikson's Avatar Ilmenheru Terikson

      LOl what country do you live in? In the U.S. there are only a handful of cases of child killers ever facing an adult sentence, and those that did surprise of all shocks were kids of color in very racist states. Most will be and rightfully so, recognized as seriously mentally ill and in need of treatment rather then punishment.

      As for the idea normal people will kill for the fun of it, you seem to not understand that would by definition make them abnormal and mentally ill if they wanted to go kill for fun.

      You seem to have a very limited grasp on, well everything RLC,

      We are on a ministry website, it is the duty of ministers to minister to those in need even killers. You do not sound like one in good standing with our ranks here based on your writing.

    2. Ren's Avatar Ren

      Your comment makes no sense in light of the fact that violent crime is less prevalent in those states that don't have the Death Penalty - such as Iowa.

      1. Preacher Jim's Avatar Preacher Jim

        The book In Cold Blood comes to mind.

  1. Ren's Avatar Ren

    Your comment makes no sense in light of the fact that violent crime is less prevalent in those states that don't have the Death Penalty - such as Iowa.

  1. Christian's Avatar Christian

    If you believe a Soul is special, then you should avoid doing harm to souls. If not for the sake of that soul, then for the sake of your own soul. Do no harm to your own soul. The courts can work out the details. By stopping death penalty, the punishment ay become even more difficult... but optimistically, the wrong doer will have ample time to repent from their wrong doings , turn away from sins, and turn towards our Heavenly Father, and understand the loving kindness and salvation of our brother Jesus, and his saving grace even while hanging on a Cross - forvgiveness for the 'good thief' - together in Heaven.

  1. Rev. Howard Slayton's Avatar Rev. Howard Slayton

    Yes,I believe capitol punishment is justified and justifiable. However, we need to be certain that the defendant is guilty. I think sometimes the cops point their finger at someone, because the heat is on em to find someone to charge for the crime.

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