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Your Guide to Virginia Death Row

Want to know how to get on the death row in the state of Virginia? You won’t want to miss our guide that outlines everything you need to know. In the state of Virginia capital punishment is legal as well in 38 other states around the United States. 

Legal process

When the state prosecution team seeks out the death penalty, this punishment sentenced will have to be ultimately decided by the case jurors. These jurors will need to vote on and agree with this punishment sentence unanimously. 

Let’s say they have a hung jury when it comes down to the sentencing phase of the trial, then there will NOT be a death sentence given. Instead, the jurors will give out a life sentenced. This even goes for the cases where only one person may oppose of the death penalty. 

The state of Virginia is the only state that has the shortest time on average between the time the inmate is given the death sentence and the time the inmate is executed. The average time between the sentence and the execution in the state of Virginia is less than 8 years. 

Since the death penalty was brought back in 1976, the state of Virginia has executed over 100 inmates. As of December of 2018, only two inmates remain on Virginia’s death row. 

The state of Virginia executed John Allen Muhammad on November 10, 2009 for his killing spree that happened in 2002 in the D.C. sniper attacks, which resulted 17 people losing their lives. It only took six years for the state to finalize Muhammad’s death sentence. 

However, you should also note that the Governor of Virginia has the power to grant clemency to these death sentences as well. 

The main method of execution in the state of Virginia is lethal injection. However, these death row inmates can request to be executed by the electric chair prior to their execution date. If the inmate does not request the electric chair, they will be executed using the lethal injection method. 

Capital Crimes

Okay, first things first, you need to understand the Virginia Criminal Code to understand how one can receive the death penalty. 

Capital murder in the Virginia Criminal Code is considered as a deliberate, willful, yet premeditated murder that involves one or more of these following aggravating factors: 

  • Committed in the act of abduction, such as abduction happened as a result of extortion of money or to defile the victim
  • Committed for hire
  • Committed by an offender who is in a local or state correctional institution
  • Committed during an act of attempted robbery or robbery
  • Committed to the act of attempted rape or plain rape, forcible sodomy or attempted forcible sodomy
  • Crime against a federal or state government worker, law enforcement officer
  • Crime against one person or more during the same time
  • Crime against more than one person within a three-year timeframe
  • Committed during a drug trafficking scheme
  • Engaging in a criminal enterprise
  • Crime against pregnant ladies with the intent to cause termination involuntary
  • Crime against a child 14 years or younger if you are over the age of 21
  • Crime of an act of terrorism
  • Crime against a judge or justice where the intent is to interfere with his or her official duties
  • Crime against a star witness in a criminal case where the intent is to interfere with his or her official duties

Modern Era Post-Gregg

In the case of Gregg v. Georgia, the United States Supreme Court upheld Georgia’s at their discretion laws. You should not that the Virginia laws are modified very similar to the laws in the state of Georgia. 

On August 10, 1982, the first person to be executed under these new laws would be Frank Coppola. Coppola would be the first one to be executed in this modern era as many people call it. 

Until 1994, the state of Virginia would continue to use the electric chair as their main way of execution. Up until 1994, the legislation didn’t enact anything for the inmates to have a choice. But finally, in 1994, the legislation enacted a law that would finally give the inmate a choice of either using the electric chair or using lethal injection for their execution. However, the lethal injection method would be the default method, if the inmate did not or couldn’t make a choice of which method they would want done. 

Since this law has been enacted, only seven inmates have chosen the electric chair in the state of Virginia. The last inmate that opted to use the electric chair was on January 16, 2013, by Robert Gleason. 

Time Kaine, former Governor of Virginia stated that he was against the use of the electric chair, but however, he chose to not ban it as an execution method option while he was in office. 

The state of Virginia holds all their male death row inmates at the Sussex I State Prison in Waverly, Virginia. The state of Virginia holds all their women death row inmates at the Fluvanna Correctional Center for Women. 

All the state of Virginia’s execution is done at Greensville Correctional Center in Jarratt, Virginia. You should note that before it was done at the Greensville Correctional Center it was held in the Virginia State Penitentiary until 1991.

Virginia state law states that there needs to be six witnesses who are not associated or employed with the Virginia Department of Corrections when the execution happens. 

Since 1994, thanks to George Allen, a former Virginia Governor signed an order that allowed all relatives of the victims of the homicide crimes to witness the executions. However, the inmate relatives are barred from watching the execution. 

Early history

The very first execution that ever happened within all the United States of America took place in the state of Virginia. 

The first person to be executed was Captain George Kendall. Kendall would be executed in 1608 in the Jamestown colony for openly lying for the country of Spain. 

Before 1909, hanging was the main method for executions throughout the United States. However, you should also know that there were many other methods that would be used during this era, such as being gibbeted, hung in chains, and burned at the stake. 

Then from 1910 to about 1994, the main method for all executions was the electric chair. 

The state of Virginia is known for executing more death row inmates than any other state within the United States. 

However, 5 inmates on February 2, 1951, were executed on one day. This has been the largest execution number carried out in a 24-hour period in the state of Virginia.

These 5 inmates were all African Americans who were being executed for the rape and another one was being executed for murder. 

Percy Ellis was the youngest person in the state of Virginia to be executed. He was executed when he was just 16 years old on March 15, 1916, using the electric chair. 

Famous Cases

One of the most famous cases that came out of the state of Virginia was known as the DC sniper. The DC Sniper was Lee Boyd Malvo and John Allen Muhammad. The pair would be tried for a few shootings that took place in October 2002. 

Even though the crimes that they were being tried for happened in Virginia, Washington, DC, and Maryland, the first set of trials would take place in the state of Virginia because the state allowed the execution of minors. Malvo was only 17 at the time during which these crimes were committed. 

Muhammad would be executed on November 10, 2009, while Malvo is sitting in a correctional facility for the rest of his life. 

Notable Exonerations

The most notable exoneration that happened in the state of Virginia happened in 2000 to Earl Washington. Washington was officially pardoned after the DNA testing excluded him as a suspect in the murder and rape for which he received the death penalty. 

You should note that Washington was also intellectually disabled and was even coerced into confessing to the crime at hand. 

Virginia First Execution

The very first execution that ever happened within all the United States of America took place in the state of Virginia. 

The first person to be executed was Captain George Kendall. Kendall would be executed in 1608 in the Jamestown colony for openly lying for the country of Spain. 

Other Interesting Virginia Execution Facts

The state of Virginia is known for executing more death row inmates than any other state within the United States. 

However, 5 inmates on February 2, 1951, were executed on one day. This has been the largest execution number carried out in a 24-hour period in the state of Virginia.

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