Washington governor declares moratorium on capital punishment

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee declared a moratorium on capital punishment in the state Tuesday, essentially repealing the death penalty and granting nine death row inmates life sentences rather than execution for as long as his term as governor lasts.

The governor said his decision is based off a review by his office of the status of capital punishment in Washington, including a tour of the state penitentiary in Walla Walla, where nine men are appealing their death sentences currently.

"Equal justice under the law is the state's primary responsibility. And in death penalty cases, I'm not convinced equal justice is being served," said Inslee from a prepared statement Tuesday. "The use of the death penalty in this state is unequally applied, sometimes dependent on the budget of the county where the crime occurred."

A former proponent of capital punishment, Inslee called it a flawed system in Washington state and more costly than beneficial. He pointed out 32 defendants have been sentenced to die since the death penalty law was enacted in 1981, 60 percent of those having their sentences overturned. Inslee said the cost of prosecuting a capital case outweighs the cost of incarcerating a defendant for life, as well as the future costs associated with appeals by death row inmates.

"Seven of the nine men on death row committed their crimes more than 15 years ago, including one from 26 years ago," said the governor. "While they sit on death row and pursue appeal after appeal, the families of their victims must constantly revisit their grief at the additional court proceedings."

Inslee also stated there is no credible evidence that the death penalty is a deterrent to murder nor are capital cases "always applied to the most heinous offenders." The inequality of justice in the system, he said, makes it hard for the state to justify.

Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson was quick to issue a response to the governor's decision.

“Washington’s Constitution and state statutes grant the governor significant powers over the fate of individuals sentenced to death,” Ferguson said in his statement. “Consequently, the governor has the authority to hit the 'pause' button for executions in Washington.”

Of the nine death row inmates challenging their convictions, Ferguson said his office is handling four in federal court.

“Consistent with the governor’s announcement, the Office of the Attorney General will continue to defend the state against cases brought by death row inmates challenging their convictions and sentences,” Ferguson said.

King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg issued his own statement calling for an informed public debate where the people of Washington would eventually decide whether to keep capital punishment in the state.

"The legal implications of the Governor’s 'reprieve policy' appear limited; our law remains unchanged," Satterberg states. "In the short term, it is likely to cause more delay, expense and uncertainty. A moratorium alone will not resolve the issues raised by the Governor."


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