Photo: Pervis Payne Christina Swarns, executive director of the Innocence Project says the death penalty disproportionately harms people of color with intellectual disabilities like Pervis Payne (above) who has spent 33 years on death row. In March, Virginia became the first Southern state to abolish the death penalty.This is a monumental step in the fight to free innocent people. Virginia Governor Ralph Northam, who signed the bill into law, emphasized its necessity by citing the case of Earl Washington, a former Innocence Project client, who was granted a stay of execution just days before his scheduled execution and was later exonerated by DNA evidence.Mr. Washington, who was sentenced to death in 1983, is Black and — unknown to many — has an intellectual disability. Because of his intellectual disability, he was more susceptible to police pressure to confess to a rape and murder he did not commit. He spent 10 years on death row and seven more years in prison before he was finally released in January 2001.