Virginia death penalty needs changes, study says

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - A panel of legal experts says Virginia lawmakers should make several changes to ensure fairness and accuracy in the state's death penalty system.

The Virginia Death Penalty Assessment Team announced results of its two-year study Thursday in Richmond. The study is part of an American Bar Association initiative to examine procedures in a dozen states that have capital punishment.

The panel says one of the biggest problems in Virginia is an overly restrictive state appeals process. It recommends giving inmates more time to appeal and providing funding for their lawyers to hire experts.

Other recommendations include better preservation of biological evidence, expanding defendants' access to evidence, improvements in jury instructions and better procedures to exclude the mentally retarded and mentally ill from the death penalty.