The Lifespan of the U.S. Death Penalty Just Got Shorter

The death penalty in the United States is on the verge of being snuffed out.

The Commonwealth of Virginia, which has executed more convicts than any other state in U.S. history, is now poised to abolish capital punishment. This is a big deal as Virginia would become the first southern state to eliminate the death penalty. Many see this legislative action as the beginning of the end to executions in this country.

When Virginia’s governor signs the pending anti-execution bill the number of states officially outlawing capital punishment will rise to 23, plus the District of Columbia. Additionally, governors in several other death penalty states have issued moratorium orders halting executions. The trend seems clear.

Official state portrait of the Virginia Governor.
Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam Supports Pending Bill

The usual pros and cons of capital punishment played out during the Virginia debate. “The government should not be in the business of killing human beings,” democratic Delegate Marcus Simon said. “It’s immoral, inhumane.”

Colleagues voting with Simon cited the often-mentioned possibility of executing an innocent person, the high cost of years-long death penalty cases and the disproportionate application of this ultimate penalty along racial lines. In Virginia, nearly half of those executed have been Black even though Blacks account for just about 20% of the population.

Virginia republicans opposed to the move argued that to overturn the death penalty is to disrespect victims, their survivors and law enforcement. They also warned that some convicted murderers could be eligible for parole and released on an unsuspecting public.

Despite the apparent swing in the execution pendulum many states, the federal government and the U.S. military still have death penalty laws on the books. But the fact is, judges handing out new death sentences and executions have become exceedingly rare.

Two Ways of Execution – Electric Chair or Lethal Injection

Last year only 18 convicts were sentenced to death, most of them in Florida and California. As for state executions, there were seven in Alabama, Georgia, Missouri, Tennessee and Texas. In July 2020, President Trump reinstated the federal death penalty and before the end of the year 10 federal convicts had been put to death.

A total of 17 executions in a country of more than 330 million hardly seems overwhelming, but to some citizens it is 17 too many. It should be noted that everyone who has been executed since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976 was found guilty of taking part in a crime that cost lives.

By the way, the U.S. military hasn’t carried out an execution since 1961 when it hanged an Army private found guilty of raping and attempting to murder an 11-year-old girl.

The United States is the only Western country that still considers capital punishment acceptable. We rank sixth in the number of government sponsored executions behind China, Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Are we like them? Should we still be carrying out executions?

What if an Innocent Person is Executed — Then What?

Some will mention the biblical reference to an “eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” Not to get all bible-y here but the Good Book also preaches rejecting revenge and the reverence for human life.

Yes, there are some crimes so heinous that the only logical response seems to be to rid the earth of the perpetrator. But what’s a worse punishment – death or being kept alive in a cage, stripped of all rights and freedoms and knowing the cage is where you will stay until you die?  

Most important to remember is the fallibility of our justice system. It’s a fact that wrongful convictions have happened. The Innocence Project says since 1989 it has painstakingly proven that, “375 people in the United States have been exonerated by DNA testing, including 21 who served time on death row.” Surely there are more innocents.

Photo credit: Facebook - from the documentary "In the Executioner's Shadow" --
Earl Washington as Seen in the Docu “In the Executioner’s Shadow”

Earl Washington of Culpeper County, Virginia was one of those 21 inmates. In 1984, the 22-year-old Black man was found guilty of the rape and murder of a young mother and sentenced to death. After a long fight to prove his innocence Washington, who at one point had been 9 days away from execution, was granted a gubernatorial “absolute pardon” on the strength of DNA evidence. He was freed in 2001 and ultimately received a settlement of nearly $2 million for his wrongful incarceration.

Those against revocation of the death penalty would be wise to keep Mr. Washington’s case in mind.



  1. Diane Dimond on February 15, 2021 at 10:17 am

    Richard Karpe writes:

    You state New Mexico abolished the death penalty in 2009. In 2021, New Mexico will abolish the anti-abortion laws. Hmm, it’s wrong to kill a criminal whose crime was so heinous to society because that’s cruel and unusual (let us not mention the victim/s) but it’s right to kill innocent children. I do hope you will write another op-ed column titled “The lifespan of the US death penalty just got longer” and quote the increasing number of children aborted, which according to your column, should be neither cruel nor unusual.


    R Karpe

    • Shay on March 29, 2021 at 12:05 am

      Now many times have you been pregnant Richard?

  2. Diane Dimond on February 15, 2021 at 10:18 am

    Gunhild Vetter writes:

    I have to agree that the death penalty has put innocent people to death and for that reason there should be more care taken when the death penalty is issued. There are cases though that are so serious, with no repentance for the crime that it would be dangerous for them to possibly be released back into society to repeat similar offenses. This has happened when NM governor Anaya removed several people from death row and don’t remember details but think they escaped and ended up killing someone in California.
    It seems strange that people are offended by the death penalty, but these same people have no problem of the murder of millions of the most innocent of all, the unborn babies that are murdered for no other reason than that they were inconvenient.

  3. Diane Dimond on February 15, 2021 at 10:19 am

    Petey writes:

    I think the criminals should die the same way they killed Especially children.

  4. Diane Dimond on February 15, 2021 at 10:20 am

    Bobbie Gardner writes:

    “ In Virginia, nearly half of those executed have been black, even though blacks account for just about 20 percent of the population.”

    So sick of people manipulating facts to support their narrative. If the author is going to make a statement like this, she needs to include what percentage of the death-penalty crimes were committed by blacks. Representation within the total population is irrelevant. If we’re reviewing crimes committed, then use those statistics.

    • Diane Dimond on February 15, 2021 at 10:23 am

      DD replies to Bobbie Gardner:

      The flip side of this, of course, is the argument that a.) cops erroneously arrest more Blacks than Whites, b.) that prosecutors traditionally go for the maximum punishment for Blacks vs Whites, c.) that juries are more prone to find a Black person guilty than a White person and d.) that judges are more likely to go for the death penalty (where applicable) for a Black defendant than a White defendant. There are statistics to cite on this argument as well as yours. ~ DD

  5. Diane Dimond on February 15, 2021 at 10:25 am

    Truth works writes:

    Death is final. In a time when science can provide definitive proof of guilt or innocence, even for old cases, every tool must be employed before the life of any person is taken. We have to be sure, or risk becoming murderers ourselves.

  6. Diane Dimond on February 15, 2021 at 10:26 am

    marselllaf writes:

    I start to question the death penalty then I hear what their victims went through and that jolts me back to reality real quick like. At least they get to choose how to die whereas their victims did not.

  7. Diane Dimond on February 15, 2021 at 10:26 am

    Larry Smith writes:

    What about unborn children. Infant lives matter, too.

  8. Diane Dimond on February 15, 2021 at 10:27 am

    Holisticag writes:

    I feel the death penalty a completely reasonable punishment for terrible violent crimes, if the justice system werent such a racist sham, and if instead of bogus investigations that are largely based on prejudices of the law enforcement and prosecutors, were instead based on sound impartial analysis of forensic science. Also with radically reduced waiting times before either execution or release. And execution matching form of the crimes committed, or if choosing a more humane route…potentially execution by drowning

  9. Diane Dimond on February 15, 2021 at 10:28 am

    Brian Deets writes:

    This is a huge win for lawyers. With less penalties to worry about, it basically gives criminals less incentive to respect the law. Thusly more money for lawyers and less respect for victims

  10. Diane Dimond on February 15, 2021 at 10:35 am

    PrayingPatriot writes:

    The Democrats in VA are going to have a rude awakening in November! Virginia will go RED and this will be overturned.
    Who do they think invoked the death penalty to start with! It was GOD, who do they think they are to think they are wiser than God Almighty! This will not stand, it is not the citizens responsibility to house and feed criminals for the rest of there life! We need to follow biblical principles and execute criminals as outlined in the Bible.

  11. Diane Dimond on February 15, 2021 at 10:36 am

    lmllehtinen writes:

    I am “all for” getting rid of the Death Penalty, including abortion

  12. Diane Dimond on February 15, 2021 at 10:39 am


    Humans, FOCUS on root causes and mitigating them ahead of broader choices and how they impact everyone ‘else’ on the ‘other’ side of the …: 1) why was someone wrongly convicted 2) why should anyone rightfully convicted of any crime so unspeakable or for which loosing their own life is the only just sentence allowed to live and be taken care of for the rest of THEIR natural lives, and receive medical treatment for a score of things a large portion of the population taking care of them wouldn’t afford or perhaps have access to (from steak to vaccines) 3) AND why is killing a living human who’s yet to see the world ok with 55%(?) of Virginians and many of those same humans should “…be wise to keep Washington’s case in mind…” Humans, I pray we would focus on root causes, compassion equally applied, and caution for how ANY decision/law may be applied by future humans. Corruption should be found out and dealt with no matter its color, affiliation, or status!

  13. Diane Dimond on February 15, 2021 at 10:58 am

    Culvan writes:

    “Those against revocation of the death penalty would be wise to keep Washington’s case in mind.”
    In 1984 they did not have as good ability to prove/disprove a case.

    Current crimes can also be handled incorrectly by LEO, medical examiners, and attorneys.

    But there are a few cases where death by injection would be appropriate— especially when there is irrefutable evidence such as video, DNA, and uncoerced confessions.

    Instead of asking what is the worse punishment— death or life in a box where you know you’ll die— we should ask what is the better punishment.

    And it might be better to use the word “consequences” instead of punishment.

  14. Diane Dimond on February 15, 2021 at 10:59 am

    roadkillbill writes:

    Yep, we have a Governor here In Oregon, where I might add that the voters approved the death penalty, who refuses to sign a death warrant.
    And yet she is a staunch supporter of on demand and tax sponsored abortion.
    You loose the moral high ground when you support abortion and decry the death penalty as barbarous.
    The only reason I believe the death penalty should be abolished, is because we allow killers like Gary Ridgeway to use the bodies of their victims, to bargain their way out of the death penalty.
    If it’s not applied equally across the board, then the state should have a life without the possibility of parole statute.
    Given that, I would have personally thrown the switch on Ridgeway.

  15. Diane Dimond on February 15, 2021 at 11:00 am

    GR American writes:

    The death penalty stands as a deterrent for those wishing to harm and take human life. While no innocent person should ever be charged for a crime, it is the responsibility of law enforcement to catch those responsible for a crime. The death penalty should only be used when there is solid DNA evidence and a strong case the person did the crime.

    What is sad is that the out cry of legislators wanting to eliminate this effective deterrent but will say abortion up until birth is acceptable. There views are twisted and with out merit.

  16. Diane Dimond on February 15, 2021 at 11:01 am

    Eddie Kitchens

    If they’re going to abolish the death penalty then put their sorry butts to work. Develop and build prison farms where they grow and raise their own food. Make these at each and every prison. You don’t grow or raise your own food you don’t eat. Make prison a terrible place to be instead of them getting whatever they want including a freakin’ sex change all at taxpayer costs!!

  17. Diane Dimond on February 15, 2021 at 11:05 am

    Joseph Sciberras writes:

    “But what’s a worse punishment: death or being kept alive in a cage, stripped of all rights and freedoms, and knowing the cage is where you will stay until you die?”

    Death; it is the ultimate punishment. And asking which punishment is worse goes against your logic; you say that death is bad because it’s immoral and inhumane, but then you want to treat someone in a way that is worse for their punishment (according to you). As I just said, death is the ultimate punishment and should be used appropriately. There is no reason why the society should have the stress of having an inhumane villain potentially get back into society and have to pay to keep them alive. There is a line that we eventually cross. Also, how can we murder innocent people through abortion but act as if we are committing crimes against humanity by killing a sick, villainous human?

  18. Diane Dimond on February 15, 2021 at 11:06 am

    Paul Fogt writes:

    I’ve seen a lot of men released from prison after DNA evidence proved they were not guilty. The death penalty is final once it is carried out, there is no correcting this if it turns out it was a mistake.

  19. Diane Dimond on February 15, 2021 at 11:06 am

    k8towne writes:

    I work in the criminal court system…if you want to hear tales of “immoral & inhumane” acts, go sit in a criminal court room and listen to the things these people have done. Within 2 days you would change your mind in favor of capital punishment

  20. Diane Dimond on February 15, 2021 at 11:07 am

    Cygnets Nest writes:

    Nothing equals the taking of a human life but taking the murderer’s life. Anything less is disrespecting the value of human life. This article is trash.

  21. Diane Dimond on February 15, 2021 at 11:08 am

    Allstop703 writes:

    The people in power today care more about the criminals than the victims and their families. Why should anyone who brutally tortures and kills another person get to live and be sustained by our tax dollars. One appeal then you meet the firing squad IMO.

  22. Diane Dimond on February 15, 2021 at 11:57 am

    Monterey Jack writes:

    Bravo Virginia and Diane Dimond! Personally, I would be OK with the death penalty if it required a threshhold of proof above reasonable doubt, such as DNA evidence or testimony of two witnesses who knew the defendant personally and saw the crime clearly. In the past, we’ve had a lot of “Yeah, that’s him, officer,” after a responding cop has picked up someone who merely matches the description.

  23. Diane Dimond on February 15, 2021 at 12:12 pm

    Guy Kurt writes:

    No, and look what Governor is pushing it?
    Same thing happen in Illinois. Ex-ex Convicted Governor Ryan. He was facing heat and went left trying to summons support. It didn’t work. He went to prison. This Governor has a racial scandal he has hanging over his political head. So, I’d say the sincerity is highly suspect, but typical.
    Either way I believe the death penalty is a deterrent, not in all cases, but some.
    And with today’s technology you can definitely be sure you’re not convicting the wrong person. Such as a killer live streaming the act, surveillance video, and other irrefutable evidence.

  24. Diane Dimond on February 16, 2021 at 2:16 pm

    Don Inman writes:

    Keep it, a no brainer

  25. Diane Dimond on February 16, 2021 at 2:22 pm

    micheledessecker writes:

    No, it’s not okay with me. I’m a believer in an eye for an eye. As an 8 year old child being told your grandmother had been murdered is something that sticks with you your entire life. Everything I’ve done in life has been influenced by that day in 1978. Unfortunately her murder was never solved, another thing that makes her murder we hard to deal with.

  26. Diane Dimond on February 26, 2021 at 1:39 pm

    Lexter K. ” Lex ” Coleman writes:

    State sponsored murder

Leave a Comment