Mission Accomplished: VADP Closing Down in February 2024

Crowd from Luncheon

We at VADP had hoped that the November 2023 election would result in a General Assembly with a majority of legislators in the House of Delegates or Senate in favor of death penalty abolition.

Thankfully that has happened.

We are confident that the newly elected General Assembly has a comfortable majority of legislators in the House of Delegates and state Senate in favor of death penalty abolition.

It has now been over two years since Governor Northam signed a death penalty abolition bill. There is no chance that this new General Assembly would vote to reinstate the death penalty for the next four years.

As a result, the VADP board of directors has decided to sunset the organization in February 2024 and rely on its legislative allies, especially Justice Forward Virginia, to defend our abolition victory in future years.

We could not have become the first Southern state to end capital punishment without your financial support and your public policy advocacy.

We are deeply grateful.

Crossing the River Styx: The Memoir of a Death Row Chaplain

February 24th, 2023

The Reverend Russ Ford, who served as the head chaplain on Virginia’s death row for eighteen years, raged against the inequities of the death penalty while ministering to the men condemned to die in the 1980s and 1990s.

Ford stood watch with twenty-eight men, sitting with them in the squalid death house during the final days and hours of their lives. In July 1990 he was nearly killed by Virginia’s electric chair as he comforted Ricky Boggs in his last moments, a vivid episode that opens this haunting book.

Many chaplains get to know the condemned men only in these final moments. Ford, however, spent years working with the men of Virginia’s death row, forging close bonds with them and developing a nuanced understanding of their crimes, their early struggles, and their challenges behind bars.

His unusual ministry makes this memoir a unique and compelling read, a moving and unflinching portrait of Virginia’s death row inmates. Revealing the cruelties of the state-sanctioned violence that has until recently prevailed in our backyard, Crossing the River Styx serves as a cautionary tale for those who still support capital punishment.

In the words of Sister Helen Prejean, “[A]nyone who wants to understand the moral and spiritual carnage of capital punishment needs to read this book.”

Purchase your copy of this important new book here.

Review of the 2022 Session of the Virginia General Assembly

We have survived the first attempt to reinstate the death penalty in Virginia.

During the recently adjourned 2022 Virginia General Assembly session, legislation was filed to reinstate capital punishment for killing a law enforcement officer.

The Senate version (SB 379) was defeated in the Judiciary Committee on a 9-6 party line vote.

Virginia State Capitol BuildingIn the House of Delegates, the Courts of Justice Committee never held a hearing on the House version of the bill (HB 661).

There are two possible explanations for this lack of action.  First, there may not have been enough votes to pass the bill out of committee.  By our count the best possible outcome of a hearing on the bill would have resulted in a tied 10-10 vote.  That would have killed the measure.

The second explanation is that House leaders told lobbyists that it would not waste time on bills that they knew would fail in the Senate.

One House Delegate told VADP that there was opposition to the bill during discussions in the Republican caucus.  That is a very hopeful development that bodes well for defending our abolition victory in future legislative sessions.

During the session, VADP and our partners learned that at least 4 of the 17 newly elected members of the House of Delegates (12 Republicans & 5 Democrats) oppose reinstatement of the death penalty.  Two of those new legislators are Republicans.

Our challenge in the coming months is to meet with the other new Delegates to discuss their attitudes about capital punishment.  We want to build up as much opposition as possible in the House of Delegates toward reinstatement of the death penalty.

Help us continue to defend our historic death penalty abolition victory. 

Any amount – $10, $25, $100, or $500 – will be a significant contribution to our work.  Just click here to make a tax-deductible contribution: https://www.vadp.org/donate/

We are grateful for your support.

Michael Stone
VADP Administrator