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W.Va. lawmaker pushes death penalty

| Saturday, March 23, 2013, 7:57 p.m.
Del. John Overington, R-Berkley, says the death penalty 'adds to the fairness of our society and helps make it work.'

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — With neighboring Maryland about to become the sixth state in as many years to abolish the death penalty, one West Virginia delegate is on a quixotic quest to resume executions in his state for the first time in a half-century.

This year marks the 27th in a row that Republican Delegate John Overington has introduced a bill to reinstate capital punishment. It has rarely progressed far and is unlikely to pass this year, even with the minority GOP steadily making gains in the legislature. Still, Overington said he will continue pushing such bills because he thinks the state would be better served if it could execute convicted murderers.

“You want to live in a just society that is fair, and capital punishment, if somebody is murdered, I think there's a perception that you have fairness if that person is put to death,” Overington said. “It sort of adds to the fairness of our society and helps make it work. If you feel that our justice system is fair, it helps you believe in it.”

Since 2007, New Jersey, New York, New Mexico, Illinois and Connecticut have abolished the death penalty. In Maryland, the legislature has passed a bill repealing the death penalty, and the governor has promised to sign it. There are official moratoriums on the death penalty in California and Oregon, and there are legislative efforts to repeal the death penalty in at least 14 other states.

West Virginia abolished the death penalty in 1965 and has not executed a prisoner since 1959.

Overington isn't worried about bucking that trend because he says the public supports capital punishment. He proudly points to faded newspaper clippings in his office with poll results showing majorities of West Virginians favor capital punishment. And every year, Overington sends everyone in his district a “citizens' poll” soliciting their opinions on current issues; he said capital punishment always gets overwhelming support.

Other than Maryland, all of West Virginia's neighbors still have the death penalty — and Overington said he fears that West Virginia invites killers by not having capital punishment as a deterrent. However, the state's homicide rate for the past 10 years is lower than that of all neighboring states, according to FBI data.

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