Del. Frank Hargrove, R-Hanover, recently entered HB 1827, which would abolish the death penalty. We asked him about it.
'I Was Wrong'
What has been the reaction to your abolition bill? The political consequences of what I've done have been significant because I'm a conservative Republican. I have some people who call me up and say, you know, "Kill 'em all." I've told them, How about I set it up so you pull the switch? Nobody has taken me up on it yet. I am not soft on crime. But now that we have life without parole, we have two ways to deal with these crimes. It's no more expensive to incarcerate for 30 years than it is to execute, with all the appeals that people have access to. All this adds up to say, I think we can do better. We can still serve the public - and the public has a right to be protected - without the death penalty. Do you worry about the fallout to your career from this bill? Well, yes. It has today in Virginia political consequences or at least some people think it does. People view 'em [death-penalty opponents] as liberal wackos. And I am anything but a liberal wacko. What was your stand on the death penalty a few years ago? My stand was one of significant uncertainty. My own logic told me it wasn't right, but it seemed to be what the general public wanted in terms of dealing with these criminals. But [my stand] was very shaky. Why? It appeared to me that there was no deterrent quality in the death penalty. In Europe they have a lower incidence of capital crimes. Now, I don't want to be like Europe in a lot of things, but I would like to be like them in that. What did you do? There have been numerous votes to the death penalty, and I have voted in the past numerous times to reaffirm the death penalty. I think I was wrong in my judgment. There's almost a cliché out there today, and some of my constituents have called me to say this, that execution brings closure. I am anything but a pacifist, but I think that's just baloney. Nothing brings a family closure that has suffered from such a horrible crime. That's just ridiculous. For a long time, I thought the problem with the death penalty was that it had no deterrent effect, because people didn't know enough about them [executions]. In 1984 or '85, something like that, I put in a bill to reinstitute public hangings. I was completely serious. I was in the old city hall and I saw this picture of the old scaffolds. Right here, there was a scaffold right on Capitol Square. In the old days, everybody saw the executions, but now we put executions so far out of sight they don't have any effect. They're out sight, out of mind. Obviously, nothing happened with that bill. But I meant it. I voted against lethal injection the same way. [With injection], execution became a very casual thing: You just gave them an injection and they slipped away. It made it comfortable for the public. I don't think it makes any difference how you execute somebody hanging, firing squad or lethal injection. It's all execution, isn't it? If there were a perfect test to determine guilt, would you support the death penalty? No. Nothing can be foolproof. You've got DNA, which helps, but nothing's foolproof. There are no circumstances under which I think the death penalty would be appropriate. We have life without parole. That's the right answer for those people. What happened when you entered the bill? I felt so much better when I finally put the bill forward I couldn't believe it. I had one fella - I won't say who it is, but he is the head of a very large company around here - who said to me, "You're right. I've always felt the same way but I couldn't say so." Lots of people are finding courage to come forward to say, "I feel the same way. It's wrong."
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