Washington justices toss death penalty as arbitrary, unfair

Remigio Civitarese
Ottobre 13, 2018

The court also converted the sentences of the eight people who were remaining on Washington's death row to life in prison, although none of them had been slated for execution as Governor Jay Inslee (left) imposed a moratorium on the death penalty in 2014 citing the inequities he had seen.

"The underlying issues that underpin our holding are rooted in the arbitrary manner in which the death penalty is generally administered", the court said.

The state Supreme Court has ruled that Washington's death penalty, as applied, violates the state Constitution.

The news is welcome, but not particularly surprising.

In the past 15 years, seven states - Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maryland, New Jersey, New Mexico and NY - have abandoned capital punishment through court order or legislative act, and three - Colorado, Oregon and Pennsylvania - have adopted moratoriums. In a statement to the Bellingham Herald, Inslee called the ruling "a hugely important moment in our pursuit for equal and fair application of justice".

"The death penalty is becoming increasingly geographically isolated", said Robert Dunham, executive director of the Washington, D.C. -based Death Penalty Information Center. It joins Alaska, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Rhode Island, Vermont, West Virginia, and Wisconsin, as well as the District of Columbia, in banning the practice.

In July, Ferguson met with legislative leaders to discuss a survey of more than 600 voters which found that almost 70 percent preferred an alternative to the death penalty.

Gregory, according to the AP, was convicted in 1996 of the rape, robbery, and murder of 43-year-old Geneine Harshfield.

Attorney General Bob Ferguson said he would press the Legislature to make the sole punishment for aggravated murder life in prison without release. He was convicted of first-degree murder in 2001 and sentenced to death.

Washington has executed 78 people since 1904, all men, but no one since 2010.

People now on death row in Washington will have their sentenced converted to life in prison.

Convicted May 9, 2013 of aggravated first-degree murder for the murder of Correctional Officer Jayme Biendl on January 29, 2011 while she was on duty at the Washington State Reformatory Unit of the Monroe Correctional Complex in Snohomish County.

Washington becomes the 20th state to outlaw executions, said the American Civil Liberties Union.

Research has routinely found that prosecutors are not more likely to seek the death penalty for black murderers than for white ones, although cases with white victims are more likely to result in a death sentence.

Earlier this year, the state Senate passed a measure abolishing the death penalty, but it failed to pass in the House. Reuven Carlyle, who had been a sponsor of those previous attempts, said in a text message.

Eight people are now sentenced to death in Washington.

Republican Sen. Mike Padden, who voted against the death penalty abolition, said he was troubled by the ruling's impact.

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