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Victims’ families weigh in on Gov. Inslee’s execution moratorium

Sherry Shaver, whose daughter was brutally murdered, testifies about Jay Inslee's death penalty moratorium. Credit: John Stang

In 1996, 22-year-old Telisha Shaver was a sunny golf fanatic from Spokane Valley who had just been accepted to her first Ladies Professional Golf Association tournament. Her boyfriend thought she was pregnant, a question that still haunts Telisha's mom.

On an April Saturday dawn, Dwayne Woods, the short-time boyfriend of Venus Shaver, Telisha's sister, showed up at the mobile home where 19-year-old Venus was housesitting. Venus’s 18-year-old friend Jade Moore was there too.

According to the Spokane Spokesman-Review, Woods attacked Venus Shaver first, stabbing her and hitting her in the head with a baseball bat. Then he woke up Moore with a knife to her throat, before raping, stabbing and beating her.

Then Telisha Shaver showed up at the mobile home later that morning — and ,was raped, stabbed and beaten unconscious. Woods ordered Moore to cut Telisha Shaver's throat..She refused. He smacked Moore with the bat some more. Then Venus' and Telisha's mother Sherry Shaver arrived to view the carnage and see Woods run away. She chased Woods, but did not catch him.

"Do you think I wouldn't have killed him on the spot? Wouldn't you?" Sherry Shaver asked the Washington Senate's Law & Justice Committee Wednesday.

Telisha Shaver died without regaining consciousness. Venus Shaver recovered, but had no memory of what happened. Moore identified Woods as the killer before she died. Woods is one of nine men on Washington's Death Row in Walla Walla.

"The only peace we can have as a family is his death,” said Sherry Shaver. Then, remembering the question of her daughter’s pregnancy, Shaver added: "To this day, I wonder whether this would be good news or bad news."

Family members of victims killed by men on Death Row testified Wednesday in favor of a bill introduced by Sen. Steve O'Ban (below), R-Pierce County. The measure would require a recommendation from the Washington Clemency and Pardons Board before a death sentence could be commuted.

O'Ban's bill is a reaction against Gov. Jay Inslee’s recent moratorium on executions while he is in office. None of the current death sentences was commuted, meaning a future governor could lift the moratorium and green light the nine stalled executions. 

Inslee is troubled by the inconsistent use of the death penalty, by questions about whether it really is a deterrent to murder and by the high costs of the decades-long efforts to execute a person on Death Row. Thirty-two people have been sentenced to death in Washington since 1981. Of that number, one has been freed and 18 have had their sentences converted to life in prison. Washington's Constitution gives Inslee the legal power to declare a moratorium on executions.

None of the family members who testified was contacted by Inslee prior to his decision. "It's the most insensitive act I've seen from a governor in Washington's history," said Sen.Janea Holmquist Newbry, R-Moses Lake, who attended a pre-hearing press conference on the bill.

O'Ban argued that Inslee overstepped his authority, but acknowledged he cannot do anything legislatively to end the current moratorium. His bill targets Inslee's successors, said O’Ban, "so the next governor cannot assign a similar moratorium."

In their testimonies, family members of murder victims, a corrections officer and three prosecutors backed O'Ban's bill and slammed Inslee's moratorium. Some argued that commuting or delaying death sentences should be handled on a case-by-case basis. "The blanket moratorium sends a message to correctional employees that it's OK to have a target on their backs, " said Monroe Correctional Center Sgt. Michael Boe, the officer who found corrections officer Jayme Biendl after she was strangled by inmate Byron Scherf in 2011. Scherf is now on Death Row.

Ed Oster's daughter Sunny was one of 16 women murdered mostly in Spokane by Robert Yates during the 1990s. Yates is on Death Row. "If you put them to sleep, they never get to kill again,” said Oster. “He committed suicide when he killed all those women."

Former legislator Debbie Regala of Tacoma, also a family member of a murder victim, opposed O'Ban's bill. "Each case of murder differs, and each family member reacts differently,” said Regala. “The governor's moratorium respects those differences." She agreed with Inslee that the moratorium should open discussions on whether Washington should keep the death penalty.

Jesse Ripley felt differently. "My family deserved justice.” said Ripley, whose sister Jane Hungerford-Trapp of Tacoma was stomped to death by Cecil Davis. “My family deserves closure." Serving a life sentence for the  Hungerford-Trapp murder, Davis is on Death Row for another killing.

Sen. Steve O'Ban photo by John Stang.

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