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Gov. Inslee announces ban on death penalty in Washington
Gov. Jay Inslee has called a halt to all executions in Washington while he is governor.
Inslee announced a moratorium on carrying out the death penalty in Washington state Tuesday, and officials said the governor's decision came after months of review of the status of capital punishment in Washington.
The review included research on current cases, discussions with prosecutors, law enforcement officials, and family members of homicide victims, as well as a tour of death row and the execution chambers at Walla Walla State Penitentiary. Nine men are on death row at the Walla Walla prison.
The use of capital punishment is inconsistent and unequal, he said, and it was time for the state to have a conversation about ensuring equal justice under the law.
“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,” Inslee said. “The use of the death penalty in this state is unequally applied, sometimes dependent on the budget of the county where the crime occurred.”
The moratorium means that if a death penalty case comes to the governor’s desk for action, he will issue a reprieve.
Officials said the ban would not commute the sentences of those on death row or issue any pardons.
Since 1981, the year Washington’s current capital laws were put in place, 32 defendants have been sentenced to die. Of those, 18 had their sentences converted to life in prison and one was set free.
Most of Washington’s death penalty sentences are overturned and those convicted of capital offenses are rarely executed, indicating questionable sentencing in many cases.
“I want to acknowledge that there are many good protections built into Washington state’s death penalty law. But there have been too many doubts raised about capital punishment,” Inslee said.
“There are too many flaws in the system. And when the ultimate decision is death there is too much at stake to accept an imperfect system,” he said.
Inslee insisted that the moratorium is not a show of mercy for the criminals awaiting execution.
“Let me say clearly that this policy decision is not about the nine men on death row in Walla Walla,” the governor said. “I don’t question their guilt or the gravity of their crimes. They get no mercy from me. This action does not commute their sentences or issue any pardons to any offender. But I do not believe their horrific offenses override the problems that exist in our capital punishment system.”
Attorney General Bob Ferguson said Tuesday that Inslee has the power to ban all state-sponsored executions while he is governor.
“Washington’s Constitution and state statutes grant the governor significant powers over the fate of individuals sentenced to death,” Ferguson said. “Consequently, the governor has the authority to hit the 'pause' button for executions in Washington.”
All nine prisoners on death row at Walla Walla State Penitentiary are challenging their convictions in state or federal court.
The Attorney General’s Office is handling the four cases currently in federal court.
Ferguson said the Office of the Attorney General will continue to defend the state against cases brought by death row inmates challenging their convictions and sentences.