Daughter of victim of death row inmate reacts to Virginia abolishing death penalty

Ralph Northam, Harold Clarke
Posted at 4:40 PM, Mar 25, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-25 20:01:11-04

NORFOLK, Va. - There aren't many photos of Keshia Stephens, and she will never have the chance to take more.

Stephens, as well as her brother and her 4- and 2-year-old daughters, were murdered in Norfolk in 2004. Anthony Juniper, Stephens' ex-boyfriend, was arrested, and a jury later sentenced him to death.

However, unlike some 1,300 people before him, Juniper's execution date won't come. On Wednesday, Gov. Ralph Northam signed legislation abolishing the death penalty in Virginia. It's the 23rd state to do so and the first state in the South.

During a press conference, Northam said, "There is no place today for the death penalty in this Commonwealth - in the South or in this nation."

However, the family of Keshia Stephens feels differently. Weshaya Stephens was just 6 years old when her mother, sisters and uncle were killed by Juniper.

She said she was with her grandmother at the time of the murder, but remembers the frantic reactions.

Since that day, she said her family has been torn apart and the remaining siblings have all been separated. When she heard that Northam signed the legislation, she said, "I was angry; I was livid; I was upset. This man is a monster. My sisters were 2 and 4 years old, you know. What I don't understand is why he doesn't deserve to die."

The other man sitting on death row was also spared from execution. Thomas Porter was originally sentenced to death for killing Norfolk Police Officer Stanley Reaves in 2005.

Their sentences will now be converted to life in prison without parole.

"My mama doesn't get a chance at life without parole, so it's just not fair," Weshaya Stephens said. "Her kids didn't get a chance for life without parole; life was over for them before they even got a chance to understand what life was."

News 3 also spoke with a juror from Juniper's capital murder trial. This individual didn't want to be identified, but said the jurors made the best decision possible with the evidence that was presented.

They said they stand by their decision, but said abolishing the death penalty in Virginia is probably for the best.

"I had no doubt that [Juniper] was guilty, but there are so many others that have been wrongfully convicted," they said.

Northam touched on this point on Wednesday and said, "We can't sentence people to that ultimate punishment knowing that the system doesn't work the same for all people."

He reported that since 1973, more than 170 people around the country have been released from death row after newfound evidence supported their innocence.

Stephens, on the other hand, said this doesn't give her family justice or closure.

"[Juniper] doesn't care about anything and doesn't have any regard for humans, so why should I care about him?" she said.