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Death penalty repeal heads to Gov. Northam’s desk

FILE - This undated file photo provided by the Virginia Department of Corrections shows the...
FILE - This undated file photo provided by the Virginia Department of Corrections shows the execution chamber at the Greensville Correctional Center in Jarratt, Va. Death penalty opponents are cautiously optimistic they have enough bipartisan support from lawmakers to pass a bill in 2021 ending executions in Virginia. Democratic Sen. Scott Surovell is again sponsoring a bill that would abolish the death penalty, and he has a Republican chief co-patron. (Virginia Department of Corrections via AP, File)(AP)
Updated: Feb. 23, 2021 at 7:55 AM EST
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RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - The Commonwealth of Virginia is now poised to become the first state in the South to formally abolish the death penalty.

Monday, state lawmakers approved getting rid of the age-old criminal sentence, and now it’s headed to Governor Ralph Northam for his signature.

It’s still hard for Sheba Williams to look at photos of Renita Williams and her teenage son, Jaishaun. They were killed in Henrico back in 2017, at the hands of the victim’s own husband, Derrell Williams. Monday would’ve been her 36th birthday.

“It’s definitely something that’s personal to me,” Sheba Williams said.

That’s because Virginia lawmakers’ decision to abolish the death penalty Monday brings back memories of Williams’ death. Her killer faced the option of being sentenced to death.

“We had to think through, ‘is this really what will bring us peace,’ and it doesn’t. It doesn’t make the victim feel peace,” Williams said.

Instead, the killer received a sentence of life without parole. Although Williams feels the pain of losing a family friend, she didn’t want to see the murderer lose his life.

“It was hard. It was hard going through the case but taking that person away doesn’t take away from the pain of losing them,” Williams said.

Monday, state lawmakers passed the Democrat-backed legislation to do away with the death penalty altogether. Even some Republican leaders voted in favor. Now the measure heads to Gov. Northam, who has promised to sign it.

He released a joined statement saying the Commonwealth has executed more people than any other state has, and like many other states, “Virginia has come too close to executing an innocent person.”

Senator Amanda Chase fired back saying, “I voted against murderers and for public safety today,” in a tweet while seemingly criticizing the state for releasing some inmates early due to the pandemic.

Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney applauded the new measure, referring to the death penalty as being “racist and inhumane.”

“Virginia has led in the death penalty for years, and that’s not something we want to do,” Williams continued.

The last two executions in Virginia happened in 2017. Ricky Gray died in January of that year. William Morva in July.

Virginia would be the 23rd state to do away with capital punishment.

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