Capital punishment invites controversy. Like many other compelling issues of our day, it is complex, having moral, political, legal and social dimensions. But unlike almost all other issues, there is a profound and solemn finality to capital punishment that demands absolute fairness and precision in carrying it out -- whether or not one believes it should exist at all.

Among the states, Virginia is second only to Texas in the number of persons it has executed since the reinstatement of the death penalty in 1977. Indeed, Virginia's execution rate, expressed as a proportion of the state's total population, exceeds that of Texas. This stark figure provoked our study.

The purpose of "Unequal, Unfair and Irreversible: The Death Penalty in Virginia" is educational. It is also meant to be a springboard for further study.