Closing the Slaughterhouse
The Inside Story of Death Penalty Abolition in Virginia
On July 1, 2021, Virginia ended a 413-year tradition by abolishing the death penalty.
Many of those convicted from 1608 to 2017 deserved harsh punishment - but Virginia took harsh to a whole new level with its "finality over fairness" philosophy. Four hundred years of her racist, mob-driven capital punishment system ensnared many innocent and undeserving victims under the toxic guises of protecting white citizens or being “tough on crime.” So many of those killed by the state died with their guilt or innocence lost to history.
Virginia leads the nation with 1,390 executions. After a 1976 Supreme Court decision, Virginia institutionalized and streamlined the parade to the death chamber more efficiently than any other state, executing between 1976 and 2017 a breathtaking 73 percent of all who received death sentences. The national average is 16 percent.
By 1999, in a bizarre quest to accelerate the killing even more, Virginia whittled the death row appeals process down to less than five years, when the national average was almost ten years. The Virginia Supreme Court and the Federal 4th Circuit Court of Appeals worked in tandem to uphold capital sentences passed in the lower courts.
Only Blacks were executed for non-homicide crimes. Virginia also executed more women (94) and more enslaved people than any other state (about 736, or 87 percent of all enslaved people executed nationally). Virginia also executed at least 16 juveniles whose ages were verified between 11 and 17.
Death was the Virginia way. Now, thanks to five decades of diligent work by dozens of abolitionists, advocates, capital defense attorneys, faith leaders, and more, it’s over.
Combining almost 50 interviews and hundreds of sources, Closing the Slaughterhouse is the true, inside story of death penalty abolition in Virginia.
The introduction of Closing the Slaughterhouse was written by Sister Helen Prejean, author of Dead Man Walking and The Voice of Innocents.
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Published by Abolition Press, an imprint of Ingram/Lightningspark
cover by Doug Dobey at Dobey Design.