VA Pilot – ‘Triggerman’ revision killed by Va. Senate panel

The Associated Press

By Larry O’Dell


For the fifth year in a row, the Virginia General Assembly has rejected legislation to expand the state’s death penalty law.

The Senate Courts of Justice Committee voted 8-6, with one abstention, on Wednesday to kill a proposal to allow the death penalty for accomplices who share a murderer’s intent to kill. The bill would have revised Virginia’s “triggerman rule,” which in most cases allows capital punishment only for the person who does the actual killing.

Full Story >>

Virginian-Pilot Editorial – Unwise expansion of death penalty

The Virginian-Pilot

This week, as Virginia’s lawmakers debated whether to expand the death penalty, the state prepared to exonerate a 56-year-old man who has spent his adult life being punished for a 1978 rape in Williamsburg that he didn’t commit.

Based on the victim’s identification, Bennett S. Barbour, then 22, was convicted and spent 4½ years in prison. DNA tests unavailable then – and denied to the man in 2004 – now show that he is innocent of the rape of a college student 34 years ago.

Since 2005, when Virginia began testing old biological evidence, at least nine defendants have been found innocent of decades-old charges. Since the late 1980s, 289 defendants in the U.S. have been exonerated; 17 were on death row.

Barbour’s case is the latest reminder that, sometimes with faulty eyewitnesses and sometimes because of corrupt police, our criminal justice system has convicted innocent people and sent them to prison or death row.

Full Story >>

WVTF/NPR: the Use of the Death Penalty Declines

Sandy Hausman – Monday, January 30, 2012 07:18 AM

Back in the early to mid-1990s, courts were imposing well over 300 death sentences every year. But for the past 15 years, that number has been going down; last year, there were only 78 cases that ended with a call for capital punishment.  David Bruck directs the Virginia Capital Case Clearinghouse at Washington and Lee University.  He says capital cases are far more complex, take much longer and cost at least ten times as much to prosecute.

“To pick a jury that is capable of hearing a death penalty case, there has to be a very elaborate winnowing process where people’s attitudes about the death penalty get explored.  All of that is time consuming, and as a result a capital trial can be 3, 4, 5, 6 times longer than the very same case if it was tried without the death penalty.”

Add to that the fact that DNA evidence has shown people are often wrongly convicted.

“The small number of cases in which there is DNA has revealed a much greater error rate than we ever thought possible.”

In the last four years, he adds, four more states have decided not to impose the death penalty, and the U.S. Supreme Court has chipped away at the number of cases where capital punishment can be imposed.

Full Story >>