The Triggerman & The Death Penalty

Brent Finnegan -- February 16th, 2010

Yesterday news broke that the Virginia Senate Courts of Justice Committee had voted down Sen. Mark Obenshain’s proposed repeal of the so-called “triggerman” law. Obenshain’s bill would have made accomplices to murder eligible for the death penalty in Virginia.

But lots of people, including Richmond Commonwealth’s Attorney, said it was flawed, and spoke out against it.

Nine committee members voted against passing the bill on to the floor for a full vote, where it likely would have passed and been signed into law — having previously been vetoed by Gov. Kaine. In fact, the measure was expected to pass this session, now with McDonnell in the governor’s mansion, but it seems that testimony in committee hearings was the deciding factor.

. . . And former gubernatorial candidate Sen. Creigh Deeds, D–Bath County, who had previously been supportive of Obenshain’s measures, voted against the bill this time around. The bill failed on a 9-6 vote.

“I went in the room intending to vote for the bill,” Deeds said. But he said he changed his mind after hearing the people who’d come to speak against it. “The testimony today was very compelling.” (pilotonline.com)

The Richmond Times-Dispatch continues:

More than a dozen people spoke on the bill, all but one of them expressing opposition to the legislation.

Foes included death-penalty opponents and the Virginia chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union as well as Richmond Commonwealth’s Attorney Michael N. Herring. He parted with the position of the Association of Commonwealth’s Attorneys, which spoke in support of the legislation.

“We still bear the burden of proving the intentional element,” said Robert Beasley, representing prosecutors.

Herring said the only way to prove that an accomplice to a capital murder shared the same criminal intent as the actual killer would be through circumstantial evidence, which he called a “dangerous slope” for deciding death-penalty eligibility.

The committee also heard from Jerry Givens, who carried out 62 death sentences between 1982 and 1999 as an executioner at the state penitentiary in Greensville.

“The people that recommend executions, that pass these bills, they don’t have to do these things. The executioners and the people that participate in these things, they have to suffer through this stuff. These things linger on,” he said.

Del. Todd Gilbert sponsored the counterpart bill in the House, and it passed. Gilbert’s bill will now move on to the same committee in the Senate that denied Obenshain’s bill.

Gilbert introduced such a bill in each of the three previous legislative sessions. Every time, the House and Senate passed the legislation, but it was vetoed by then-Gov. Timothy M. Kaine.

Delegate Joe Morrissey, D-Highland Springs, opposes Gilbert’s proposal. He called the bill “unwarranted, unworthy and un-Christian.”

Morrissey said it’s more expensive to carry out an execution than to keep someone in prison for life, and he said capital punishment is ineffective as a deterrent to crime. He also said he fears that innocent people might be executed. (read the full story)

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7 Responses to “The Triggerman & The Death Penalty”

  1. JGFitzgerald says:

    I always wonder, when death penalty extensions are proposed, just how many murders they would apply to. The stories often cite the Beltway Sniper, but we already executed him so he may not be the best example.

  2. Yeah, but what if? I mean, let’s just say that Charles Manson was killing people by proxy from a secret location in Virginia. What then?

  3. Can we look at the fact that the accomplices can “possibly” face a death sentence…not “probably”. There are those who believe that this will some how triple the number of executions this state carries out.

    I’m not speaking out for or against it right now, but being that I’m not one for hyperbole, I think that some of the alarmist reaction against this proposed legislation (that I’ve seen in other places, not here at hburg news per se) is a bit over-the-top.

  4. Lowell Fulk says:

    Phil,
    Hyperbole is the bane of the existence of good government. And being as how I believe government can be well run, and thusly be good, it is the bane of my existence as well.

    Hyperbole has run rampant during the past year…

    But please tell me, how extending the death penalty is worth the effort and focus put forward by its proponents? What in actuality would change? To think that several Valley legislators have invested much of their entire careers in Richmond to this, at a time like this, borders upon absurdity. In my humble opinion…

  5. MF says:

    The real question is how would this law benefit the state, or the citizens of this state? The legislators are supposed to be doing the work of the people. I don’t see how more executions will change, or help anything. Gilbert and Obenshain should be more concerned about getting funding to fix the I- 81 corridor. Fix my roads damn it!!

  6. cook says:

    Phil,

    We assume that the folks in law enforcement and in the prosecutor’s office will use their discretion in placing criminal charges appropriate to the crime. Criminal statutes are necessarily written broadly allowing for the exercise of that discretion. However, one need not look too far to see that some jurisdictions take the approach that we CAN place Charge X so we MUST place Charge X. That is why the legislature ought to always be cautious in broadening the scope of a criminal statute, especially when we’re talking about the death penalty – those jurisdictions will take the enlarged scope as a mandate.

  7. Jon says:

    I wish Gilbert and Obenshain would actually propose a bill worthy of being passed. The Valley is poorly represented by these pointless death-penalty extensions and “bring-your-concealed-weapons-into-state-parks” kind of bills. Can we please move beyond executions by the state and allowing guns into every public arena imaginable? How about trying to fix our state’s budget problems and transportation issues instead of nonsense.

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