Governor Ralph Northam signs historic legislation eliminating death penalty in Virginia

The state with one of the highest execution totals in the nation has put an end to them.

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Virginia Governor Ralph Northam signed legislation on Wednesday ending the death penalty in the Commonwealth.

"Virginia’s history – we have much to be proud of, but not the history of capital punishment," Northam says.

The historic legislation makes Virginia the first southern state - and the 23rd in the union - to repeal the death penalty.

The governor signed the legislation following a tour of the death chamber at the Greensville Correctional Center.

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Virginia had executed nearly 1,400 people since its days as a colony. The Commonwealth is second only to Texas in the number of executions it has carried out – with 113 since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976.

"As I have learned more about how the death penalty is applied in this country, I can say that the death penalty is fundamentally flawed," Northam says.

Virginia State Senator Scott Surovell talked about his advocacy for abolishing the death penalty and described his experience visiting the execution chamber and electric chair at the Greensville Correctional Center as a Governor’s Fellow in 1993.

"It is fundamentally impossible to utilize this type of sanction in a country like ours that values fundamental human rights the way we do," Surovell says. "It is impossible to use this remedy. It doesn’t work."

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Last month, Virginia’s new Democratic majority won a yearslong battle when both the Senate and House of Delegates approved bills to end capital punishment.

"This restores us to a place of prominence in the world. It makes us a leader in justice," Surovell says.

The Associated Press contributed to this report