ROCKINGHAM CO, Va--- A bill that would increase penalties for accomplices of murder passed the House of delegates 96-2 on Tuesday.
Currently, being an accessory after the fact of murder is a misdemeanor. If the bill goes into law, it would be considered a felony and punishable up to five years in jail.
The bill is commonly known as Ben's Law. It is named after Ben Graessle, a teenager who was shot and killed in Harrisonburg in 2012. The accomplice in Graessle's murder only served a year in jail.
Joanne Plaster, Graessle's family friend, wants to keep his memory alive.
"Ben was outgoing, energetic, very passionate about everything he did. He was a jokster and a great person to be around," said Plaster.
Along with family and friends, Plaster collected nearly 6,000 signatures in favor of Ben's law.
"Unfortunately it took another life in order to make a change but this is how Ben's light can continue on," said Plaster.
Delegate Ben Cline (R-24th) who introduced the bill said accomplices would also serve their time in state prison instead of a local jail. The change would cost up to $50,000.
"That person has seen a murder and helped to cover it up and for that person to get off with a misdemeanor, it is just not the way our system of justice it is supposed to work," said Cline.
The bill now heads to the Courts of Justice Committee in the Senate for a vote.
Plaster is hopeful it will become law.
"It is incredible, overwhelming and I am praying that it continues, that it passes the Senate," said Plaster.
The committee is expected to discuss the bill in two weeks. If it passes, it would go to the full Senate.
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