Women and the Death Penalty in the United States, 1900-1998

By Kathleen A. O'Shea | Go to book overview

31
Virginia: Lethal Injection

The state of Virginia has given the death penalty to only one woman, Virginia Christian, since 1900. She was executed in 1912. There are no women on death row in Virginia today.

Fifty-two people have been executed in Virginia since the death penalty was reinstated. Historically, the record year for executing people in Virginia was 1909 when the state executed seventeen. But in recent years the numbers have begun to climb. In 1997 nine inmates were executed in Virginia. And, as of July 1998, five inmates had been executed.

Virginia is second next to Texas in its number of executions. And twice, the state of Virginia has executed people on International Human Rights Day. Governor George Allen was responsible, during his term of office for twenty- four executions.

In 1977, a year after the Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty, Virginia lawmakers passed a capital murder statute. This new statute divided capital trials into the bifurcated guilt phase, where guilt or innocence is determined, and the sentencing phase where prosecutors try to prove the "future dangerousness" of a defendant or that the crime was heinous enough to deserve death. In the sentencing phase, the defense may present mitigating factors, however, Virginia does not allow jurors in death penalty cases to know when a defendant sentenced to life would be eligible for parole.

Prosecutors are never required to seek the death penalty in a capital case and by law they can only seek it if (1) there is a probability the defendant will constitute a continuous, serious threat to society. This is referred to as the "Future dangerousness precept" or (2) the crime is outrageously or wantonly vile, horrible or inhuman. This is known as the "Vileness Standard."

When the death penalty was reinstated in Virginia it was modeled after the Texas statutes which provide an automatic review of death sentences and in

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