Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Virginia and the Death Penalty

Streak had an interesting post today on the usage of the death penalty and comparing the United States' usage to that of Iran. He contends that Iran and the US are practically synonymous in their usage of it. In the comment thread, I became interested in my state's death penalty history. I was shocked to discover how horrific that history is.
History of the death penalty in Virginia:
  • Virginia introduced the death penalty to the "New World" by hanging George Kendall in the early 1600's
  • Virginia has carried out over 1,300 executions in its history, more than any other state.
  • Virginia has executed more women and the youngest children of any state in the nation.
  • Between October of 1908 and March of 1962, Virginia used the electric chair to execute 236 people. 201 of those were black males, 34 were white males; one, Virginia Christian, was a 17-year-old black female. During that period, the youngest, Percy Ellis, was executed at the age of 16.
  • In February of 1951, Virginia executed 8 men in a 72-hour period. All 8 men were black and 7 were executed for the rape of one white woman. These seven were known as the Martinsville Seven.
  • Virginia's single year record for executions is 17 in 1909.
It is the typical conservative position to endorse the death penalty, but I'm not so sure. With numbers like these it makes the issue not quite so clear-cut.


Streak said...


One quibble. I don't think I said--or at least didn't mean to say--that the US is synonymous with Iran on capital punishment. I do think we are in horrible company when you compare the other countries who also think that killing people will convince people that killing people is wrong.

The death penalty bothers me for many reasons. Your list of Virginia's record is just one of many in our country. The states that had the highest rates of lynching now have the highest execution rates--and of course, the victims of both were mostly African American. Add to that the class bias and you have a real problem.

What concerns me most are a couple of issues currently. One is that the more religious the state, the more likely you have a harsh death penalty and less representation. Add to that the dna evidence and other biases and we know we are killing people in a unfair and biased and broken system. Yet people don't care.

Tony said...

No, you didn't say synonymous; I should have said "consistent." Your post led me to that assumption, but you know what assuming often does.

What really surprised me more than anything about these stats was the number of juveniles executed as well as females. Class bias plays heavily into these stats, too.

The same article I referenced showed that 90% of all US executions occur in TX, GA, FL, LA, and VA. All of these would be considered Bible belt states. I think this proves poor hermeneutics can give rise to bad policy.