Inslee's death penalty suspension: Will it stick?

Gov. Jay Inslee will block any executions while he's in office. But is the Legislature willing to look at a bigger decision?
Gov. Jay Inslee

Gov. Jay Inslee Photo: John Stang

Gov. Jay Inslee ordered a moratorium on state executions Tuesday. Now the question is whether that moratorium will end when Inslee leaves office or whether it will nudge the Legislature to repeal the death penalty?

Right now, there are no answers.

Inslee and his staff have been studying this matter for months — talking with family members of murder victims, Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson, law officers, prosecutors and former directors of the Washington Department of Corrections. The family members of the murder victims include some, but not all of the victims of the nine convicts currently on Washington's Death Row. Inslee declined to identify which families he talked to, but said they included people for and against a moratorium. "What I found in talking to the families, there is a wide divergence in what the families feel about this," he said.

"Equal justice under the law is the state's primary responsibility. And in death penalty cases, I'm not convinced equal justice is served. The use of the death penalty in this state is unequally applied, sometimes dependent on the budget of the county where the crime occurred," Inslee said. Also, doubts have been raised about the death penalty's deterrent value, he added.

Inslee stressed that the cases of the current nine men on Death Row did not enter into his decision. "I don't question their guilt or the gravity of their crimes. They get no mercy from me. This action today does not commute their sentences or issue any pardons to any offenders," he said.

Inslee said 32 people have been sentenced to death in Washington since 1981. One has been freed and 18 have had their sentences converted to life in prison. "When the majority of death penalty sentences lead to reversal, the entire system itself must be called into question," he said.

Costs were another factor his decision. National "studies have shown that a death penalty case from start to finish is more expensive than keeping someone in prison for the rest of their lives," he said. Inslee's staff did not have a Washington-specific comparison of those figures. However, housing one person on Death Row at Walla Walla costs $115 a day in this state.

Inslee said his decision was a gradual one made over several months. "When you delve into the bowels of the system, it's not really consistent with what we expect in this state. We have a human system and a human system is fallible," Inslee said. He said he wanted to limit his use of his executive powers by declaring the moratorium, but keeping the death penalty on the books in order for the Legislature to deal with that issue.

The Washington Constitution gives Inslee that authority, Ferguson said. "The governor has the authority to hit the 'pause' button for executions in Washington,” Ferguson said.

Rep. Reuven Carlyle, D-Seattle, has introduced a death-penalty-repeal bill almost annually. His latest was introduced in 2013, held over to this year, and just died because it did not leave the committee stage by Tuesday’s deadline. He expects to introduce the same bill in 2015. "I think this is a profound shift in that he has shifted the conversation (on the death penalty). ... We'll ask the public and the Legislature to join us in this conversation," Carlyle said.

Sen. Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley and a former judge who chairs the Senate's Law & Justice Committee, contended that the death penalty is a good deterrent, especially when making deals and pleas bargains with defendants facing that punishment. "To the victims, (the moratorium) is the wrong message. For the governor to take that away is wrong," Padden said.

He said prosecutors attack many crimes differently in different counties, and death penalty cases should not be the exception. "All these (death penalty) cases are reviewed and reviewed and reviewed," Padden said.


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Comments:

Posted Tue, Feb 11, 10:06 p.m. Inappropriate

"This must be a difficult day for these families as they are confronted with the reality that the governor cares more about a few convicted killers than justice for their loved ones.” Rep. Jay Rodne, R-Snohomish

Not justice, vengeance. Justice is life without. The government should not be meting out vengeance for victimized families.

louploup

Posted Tue, Feb 11, 11:04 p.m. Inappropriate

$115/day? Sounds like a lie.

Djinn

Posted Wed, Feb 12, 5:47 a.m. Inappropriate

Agreed, no death penalty, just release the killers and let the families of the victims take care of it. Feel better now? Better yet, put all these folks into general population in prison, animals like the Carnation child killers have a habit of having "accidents" at the hands of their fellow inmates.

Cameron

Posted Thu, Feb 13, 10:54 a.m. Inappropriate

I do not support the death penalty, and I do not support the Governor's decision. Government by the whim of the executive has no place in a democratic republic. If he cannot bring himself to faithfully execute the laws of the land, he should resign.

DTNelson

Posted Sun, Feb 16, 8:20 a.m. Inappropriate

my only and greatest disappointment is that this issue is a total misdirection, at what point between three strikes and and no death penalty does penitentiary or correctional facility have become an oxymoron..anyone that takes the position that life without parole is cheaper is fooling themselves..the secondary costs of PRISONS is far beyond calculation..just in the terms of personal damage to the first time offender are they offered penance or correction? EXACTLY AT WHAT POINT DOES THE SYSTEM ITSELF BECOME CRUEL AND UNUSUAL? if the death of killers must be painless, then where is the outrage over late term abortion?

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