(Dec. 26, 2016) Catherine Read is joined by three members of the Board of Directors of Virginians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty: Paul O’Shea, attorney Kristina Leslie, and Nicholas Cote. The impending execution of death row inmate Ricky Gray on January 18, 2017, has brought the issue of capital punishment back into the headlines in Virginia.
VADP is a non-profit that has been working to abolish the death penalty in Virginia since 1991. With over 140 death row exonerations in recent years, there is no doubt that innocent people have been both wrongly convicted and wrongly executed by state governments.
Some states have abolished use of the death penalty legislatively and others have found ways to avoid executions through commuting death sentences to life without parole. In December 2016, the Delaware Supreme Court ruled that everyone currently on death row in that state will be re-sentenced to life without parole. That ruling stems from their August decision which found the death penalty law is unconstitutional.
Recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions have weighed in on the issue of capital punishment as it is applied to juveniles and those who are intellectually disabled. There is still great disparity in how each of the 50 states has structured laws around who may be put to death and how.
Most recently, there has been controversy over the method of execution that uses injectable drugs. There have been issues with the performance of these drugs that have prolonged the actual termination of life and that is being challenged as a cruel and unusual punishment.
Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe could commute the sentence of Ricky Gray prior to his execution date on January 18, but there has been no indication that he is considering such a move. Virginia in third in the nation for the number of people executed since 1976. The Death Penalty Information Center has charted those number in the U.S. here.
You can find more information on the work of Virginians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty at http://vadp.org