Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Virginia is on its way to abolishing the death penalty. Meanwhile, a mother shares both grief and relief

The Virginia General Assembly voted to get rid of the death penalty. (WYDaily/ Courtesy of Unsplash)

Since 1976, 113 Virginians have been executed, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

Now, it appears Virginia is on its way to ridding itself of the death penalty, joining 22 states that have already done so.

Recent votes in the Virginia General Assembly saw the Senate vote in favor of abolishing capital punishment (21-17) and the House of Delegates voting in favor of repealing the death penalty and replacing it with a sentence of life without parole (57-41).

All that remains is for Gov. Ralph Northam to sign the bill into law, which would make Virginia the first southern state to ban the death penalty.

“The practice is fundamentally inequitable,” Northam said in a prepared statement on Feb. 3. “It is inhumane. It is ineffective. And we know that in some cases, people on death row have been found innocent.”

So who are some of the Virginians who support abolishing the death penalty?

One group is Virginians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty (VDAP), who sent a letter and a petition titled “Virginia Murder Victim Family Members Call for Death Penalty Abolition” with 21 signatures to the General Assembly on Jan. 27.

Neva Herrington, a retired teacher from Northern Virginia Community College and a Williamsburg resident, has been a member of VDAP for years and was one of the people who signed the petition.

But Herrington may be one of the least-expected people to sign a petition like this. She knows all too well what it is like to lose a loved one.

Her daughter, Elizabeth Herrington, was murdered in her own apartment in Fredericksburg on Nov. 3, 1994.

Elizabeth was a 46-year-old artist who had problems with addiction and depression. She was living in a halfway house after staying at a homeless shelter in Fredericksburg.

But it would be eight years until Herrington received answers to her daughter’s death.

In 2002, Archie Elmore Talley, 45, a cook from Fredericksburg who also had been in and out of the same shelter, was charged with first-degree murder in Elizabeth’s death. According to Herrington, his motive was jealousy after seeing Elizabeth talking to his ex-lover.

Herrington said though it was a relief to see her daughter’s case finally come to a close, she also never felt rage toward Talley.

“One of my thoughts when [Elizabeth] was killed was that it would be better to be the mother of a murdered person than the mother of a murderer,” she said.

Herrington said she also received a letter from one of her daughter’s friends from high school, in which the friend said she felt Elizabeth would have accepted what happened and might even forgive Talley for his crimes.

“I know that Elizabeth would not expect me to be other than sad, but I also recognize that within her, even as she died, was a very special courage and acceptance that she might have wished to pass along to all of us, and I know there were many who loved her,” the friend said in the letter.

Herrington never spoke directly to Talley, but said during one of the court hearings, he turned to her and expressed his condolences but continued to say he was not guilty.

Talley, who took an Alford plea, was sentenced to 80 years in prison in 2004. He later died in 2016 at the age of 58.

So Herrington got the answers she waited nearly a decade for, and the person who ended her daughter’s life was caught and put behind bars.

But Elizabeth’s story didn’t end there.

In 2009, Elizabeth’s case was featured in an episode of Cold Case Files titled “A Man Scorned/ The Dungeon,” in which Herrington made an appearance to speak about her daughter’s death.

And in 2007, Herrington published a chapbook called “Her BMW,” a collection of poetry dedicated to her daughter’s memory. The title was inspired by the old BMW her daughter used to drive.

“I like to think she lives on in the poetry,” said Herrington, who continues to give poetry readings at her retirement community.

As for the abolishment of the death penalty, Herrington said she supports the decision of senators and lawmakers.

“It didn’t seem fair,” she said. “You’re imposing a homicide as the solution to another homicide.”


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