Obenshain

Virginia State Sen. Bill DeSteph, R-Virginia Beach, left, listens to Sen. Mark Obenshain, R-Rockingham, during debate on the death penalty bill at the Senate session at the Science Museum of Virginia in Richmond on Monday.

RICHMOND — State lawmakers gave final approval Monday to legislation that will end capital punishment in Virginia, a dramatic turnaround for a state that has executed more people in its history than any other.

The legislation repealing the death penalty now heads to Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam, who has said he will sign it into law, making Virginia the 23rd state to stop executions.

Virginia's Democratic majority, in control of the General Assembly for a second year, pushed the repeal effort, arguing that the death penalty has been applied disproportionately to people of color, the mentally ill and the indigent. Republicans raised concerns about justice for victims and their family members, and said there are some crimes that are so heinous that the perpetrators deserve to be executed.

Both the House and Senate approved separate repeal bills earlier this month. On Monday, the Senate approved the House bill, advancing it to Northam on a 22-16 vote. Republican Sen. Jill Vogel joined with Democrats in the chamber in voting for passage. Later Monday, the House voted 57-43 to approve the Senate version, which is identical to the House bill.

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

Only two men remain on Virginia's death row. Anthony Juniper was sentenced to death in the 2004 slayings of his ex-girlfriend, two of her children, and her brother. Thomas Porter was sentenced to die for the 2005 killing of a Norfolk police officer. The repeal legislation would convert their sentences to life in prison without parole.

Del. C. Todd Gilbert, R-Mount Jackson, released the following statement on Monday:

“Today’s vote is the ultimate gesture of disrespect to the individuals and their families who have suffered at the hands of brutal killers. No one should ever take the death penalty lightly, but the ultimate crime deserves at least the possibility of the ultimate sentence. Not once this session have Democrats spoken with emotion on behalf of crime victims, but today they brought themselves to tears speaking about the killers who would no longer face Virginia’s death chamber. This posture of sympathy for hardened criminals and ignoring the plight of crime victims remains part of a sad and ongoing theme for Virginia Democrats.”

Lawmakers respond to repeal

State Sen. Mark Obenshain, R-Rockingham:

“Today, the Senate of Virginia voted to abolish the death penalty. I voted not to abolish because I believe that there are cases where capital punishment is an appropriate sanction. This form of punishment is, and should be, reserved for the worst of the worst. I cited two such cases in my remarks earlier this session: Ivan Teleguz, who was convicted in 2006 of hiring a man to kill the mother of his child, and Ricky Gray, who was convicted of killing a family of four, slashing their throats and setting their home ablaze in 2006. These were savage, brutal crimes.... where the rare application of capital punishment was warranted. I will continue to support legislation which strengthens, not weakens, our criminal justice systems and protects and respects victims of crimes.”

Del. C. Todd Gilbert, R-Mount Jackson:

“Today’s vote is the ultimate gesture of disrespect to the individuals and their families who have suffered at the hands of brutal killers. No one should ever take the death penalty lightly, but the ultimate crime deserves at least the possibility of the ultimate sentence. Not once this session have Democrats spoken with emotion on behalf of crime victims, but today they brought themselves to tears speaking about the killers who would no longer face Virginia’s death chamber. This posture of sympathy for hardened criminals and ignoring the plight of crime victims remains part of a sad and ongoing theme for Virginia Democrats.”