Blog of Rights

Virginia Senate Committee Rejects Bill That Would Expand Death Penalty

By Suzanne Ito, ACLU at 1:30pm

On Monday, the Courts of Justice committee of the Virginia senate killed SB7, a bill that would have expanded the pool of those eligible for the death penalty. In a time when death sentences are at an all-time low since capital punishment was reinstated in 1976, attributable to high-profile death row exonerations and the expensive, drawn-out appeals process of death penalty cases, some Virginia legislators are actually trying to find ways to execute more people.

SB7 would have redefined what's known as the "triggerman rule," which holds that only the person who actually committed the murder would be eligible for execution. This bill would have allowed for a death sentence for someone who didn't commit murder.

This isn't the first time this bill has failed. As the Washington Post points out:

Last year, a veto by former Gov. Tim Kaine (D) was all that kept the same measure from becoming law, after it passed the Democratic-led senate.

It was widely thought that the senate would likely approve the bill again this year and it would be signed into law by Gov. Bob McDonnell (R), who has voiced his approval. But, it appears the so-called "triggerman" bill will die this year, after a slight change to the courts committee membership resulted in a 6 to 9 vote. The House of Delegates has passed the same bill already, but it is likely the Senate courts committee will reject that measure as well.

Several states allow for the execution of a person who did not murder anyone if they were involved in an underlying felony. In Texas, the injustice of the state's Law of Parties drew attention last year when Kenneth Foster was about to be executed because he was the driver of a car when a passenger jumped out and killed someone. Gov. Rick Perry commuted Foster's sentence. In the meantime, Jeff Wood is still on death row for a conviction under the same Law of Parties statute.

Dennis Skillicorn did not kill anyone either, but he was less fortunate than Foster. Skillicorn was executed last May in Missouri.

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