Richmond, Virginia (CNN)(04/28/20)— Jerry Givens, who became an anti-death penalty activist after years of serving as Virginia’s chief executioner, has died from complications related to Covid-19, his family told CNN. Givens, age 67, passed away on April 13.
A lifelong resident of Richmond, Givens served as chief executioner from 1982 to 1999, when he oversaw 62 executions, according to the organization Death Penalty Action, which is part of the anti-capital punishment movement.
After preparing for an execution that was later stayed, Givens began questioning his role, according to his family.
“His biggest fear is that at some point he may have executed someone who was innocent,” said Abraham Bonowitz, co-founder of Death Penalty Action.
The Virginia Department of Corrections did not respond to CNN’s request for comment Monday.
Givens initially kept his job as executioner a secret, according to his niece, Valerie Travers. “We had no idea what he did,” Travers said. “We actually thought he was a prison guard.”
After a stint in prison for money laundering, Givens confronted his past career and became an outspoken activist against the death penalty, according to Bonowitz.
He would mail governors ahead of high-profile executions and join Bonowitz on reaching out to corrections officers by visiting towns near prisons.
“It’s hard for people to dismiss someone who has a career in corrections and who had a hands-on-job with executing people,” Bonowitz said. “It doesn’t matter what your politics or faith is, that’s a voice who gets to be heard.”
Givens leaves behind his wife, Sadie Givens, and two sons.
- Louisiana National Guard engineers deploy to Middle East
- Pandemic Golden Globes ratings plunge 64% to 6.9M viewers
- Budget nominee Neera Tanden withdraws nomination amid opposition
- Local musician leaves music to battle cancer
- SCOTUS considers Arizona voting rights case as House lawmakers debate bill expanding access to polls