The day after signing the bills ending the death penalty in Virginia, Gov. Ralph Northam told WTOP that the move righted a historical wrong and reflected the will of the voters.
“[Wednesday] was a big day for Virginia,” Northam said on Thursday. “Obviously, we have some really good history, but we have some bad history. And certainly the death penalty was a large piece of that bad history. And so it was our opportunity in Virginia yesterday to right that wrong.”
He said taking the step was a matter of “listening to the voters of Virginia. This is why they go to the polls, and then elect individuals such as our senators and delegates, and folks like me. And so this is something that they asked for.”
Northam also commended the legislators who voted to eliminate the death penalty, saying, “I commend the legislature for dealing with equity, dealing with criminal justice reform, dealing with police reform, and, and this was just another step in that direction.”
Reminded that as a state senator he had once supported the death penalty, Northam said, “I have certainly evolved, just like a lot of other folks have. And I realized that the death penalty is not equitable. It’s certainly disproportionate. So many more African Americans have been executed than people not of color. It’s been proven that it doesn’t deter heinous crimes.”
He added that “We also know that Virginia hasn’t always gotten it right,” referring to the case of Earl Washington in 1984, who was nine days from being executed before DNA evidence exonerated him.
“And finally,” he said, “it’s just inhumane.”
‘Favorable’ COVID-19 numbers
Northam earlier this week relaxed some of the COVID-19 safety restrictions in the commonwealth as the holiday surge in cases, hospitalizations and deaths has subsided. Still, things are roughly where they were last fall — 1,400 new cases and 10 deaths were announced Thursday — and the governor emphasized the importance of taking things slowly and of continuing to use masks and practice social distancing.
“The numbers are favorable,” Northam said, “but we’ll continue to keep a lot of these guidelines in place that we know work.”
He pointed out that many of the relaxed rules had to do with outdoor gatherings, which are generally considered safer than indoor ones. “So we really encourage people to be outdoors.”
Northam also said he was encouraged by the vaccination numbers in Virginia and foresaw no problems reaching President Joe Biden’s goal of making all adults eligible to be vaccinated by May.
WTOP’s Brennan Haselton contributed to this report.
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