March 24, 2021

Governor Northam Signs Legislation to Abolish the Death Penalty in Virginia:
A “Monumental Victory for Justice”

JARRATT, Va – This afternoon Governor Ralph Northam made history when he signed legislation to abolish the death penalty in Virginia. He signed the document on the grounds of the Greensville Correctional Center, which houses the execution chamber used to carry out capital punishment by the Commonwealth of Virginia. This legislation makes Virginia the first state in the South and the 23rd state in the country to formally abolish the death penalty.

At the signing ceremony, Rev. Dr. LaKeisha Cook from the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy (VICPP) said, “Virginia’s legacy on the death penalty was so closely connected to its history of slavery and lynching. Now that it is coming to an end, we can start a new chapter that embraces an evidence-based approach to public safety: One that values the dignity of all human beings and is focused on transforming the justice system into one rooted in fairness, accountability, and redemption.”

Historically, Virginia has used the death penalty more than any other state, executing close to 1,400 people since its days as a colony. Since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976, Virginia, with 113 executions, is second only to Texas for the most executions in the nation.

The Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy (VICPP) was one of the key organizations that helped to win passage of the bill. Rev. Dr. LaKeisha Cook, a Baptist minister who serves as VICPP’s justice reform organizer worked with Benjamin Hoyne, VICPP’s policy and campaigns director to engage and mobilize the faith community on this successful legislative campaign. VICPP worked in close partnership with Virginians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, the 8th Amendment Project, and the ACLU of Virginia, who along with VICPP, have been working on this issue for decades.

Although many faith traditions joined the fight, VICPP’s advocacy campaign was led by Black faith leaders who spoke passionately about the connection between the death penalty and Virginia’s shameful history of lynching and racism. Rev. Cook said, “We are grateful to the faith leaders, congregants, and advocates for justice who joined us in the fight to end the death penalty and rid our Commonwealth of this historical injustice. This victory would not have been possible without their voices and support. The faith community absolutely helped push this across the finish line by making a difference with legislators.”

VICPP’s campaign included five prayer vigils at historic lynching sites across Virginia, clergy and community petition drives, press conferences with faith leaders and prosecutors who oppose the death penalty, and national media outreach. VICPP also organized an email campaign that reached hundreds of Virginians who wrote and called their legislators demanding an end to this barbaric practice.

“This monumental victory for justice is a significant step in acknowledging the racist legacy of capital punishment as we seek to collectively heal the deep wounds of racism. We are hopeful that other states and the Federal government will follow suit,” said Rev. Dr. Lakeisha Cook.


Fact sheet on historical connection between Virginia’s use of the death penalty and lynching


Roberta Oster
Communications Director
Virginia Interfaith Center

Rev. Dr. LaKeisha Cook
Justice Reform Organizer
Virginia Interfaith Center