Death penalty opponents are hopeful this is the year they can convince Virginia lawmakers to abolish the death penalty.
Michael Stone is with Virginians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty. For years his group has actually asked lawmakers not to consider abolition.
“Because it would be laughed out of committee on first day of session and it did not help us,” Stone says.
But after years of building grassroots support in rural areas of the state, now they feel ready. And with Democrats in charge, Stone is hopeful.
“As long as the death penalty remains a possibility, it’s going to be used," he explains. "And we just find that to be an indefensible position.”
The last person executed in Virginia was William Morva. He was sentenced to death for the murder of Corporal Eric Sutphin in Montgomery County.
That was Rachel Sutphin’s father – she pled for clemency for Morva. And now, she says, she has to mourn not one life, but two….
“Every July and every August I now have these two dates in my mind," Sutphin says. "Of the date that my father died, as well as the date that Morva was executed.”
Sutphin, along with a dozen other family members of victims - including one lawmaker - have signed a letter urging the General Assembly to abolish the death penalty this year. Short of full abolition - the group will also be pushing a measure to prohibit the death penalty for people with severe mental illness.