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Execution moratorium misuse of power, Republicans say

OLYMPIA — Legislative Republicans accused Gov. Jay Inslee of misusing his power by announcing a blanket moratorium on all executions during his term.  

“It's the Legislature that decides whether (capital punishment) is an appropriate policy,” Sen. Steve O'Ban, R-University Place, said, while a governor has the authority to stay the execution of a particular inmate on an individual basis. “He has usurped his role.”

Inslee announced Tuesday he would not allow anyone who has been sentenced to death by the courts and exhausted all appeals to be executed while he is in office, hoping that would spark a discussion on whether equal justice is being served by capital punishment in Washington. A successor could allow the executions to go forward if he or she chooses, Inslee said.

Criticism from O'Ban and other Republicans was varied, and at times seemed contradictory. At one point, O'Ban said it could take a valuable tool out of the hands of prosecutors, who have used the possibility of not seeking the death penalty as a way to force serial killers to reveal information about victims; later he said it won't save the state any money because prosecutors will still be seeking the death penalty for cases that qualify for them.

O'Ban later said that defense attorneys will bring up the moratorium in discussions and “undercut” a prosecutor. It would also lead to “open season” on prison guards for inmates serving life without parole, because they'd have nothing to lose by killing a guard.

The threat of the death penalty didn't keep Monroe inmate Byron Scherf from strangling prison guard Jayme Biendl in 2012. But Sen. Kirk Pearson, R-Monroe, said he is hearing from prison staff who want to know the Legislature is doing the best they can “to make them safe.” 

The Legislature could address problems with the cost of capital punishment and the long delays from appeals without a complete suspension, O'Ban said.

A spokesman for Inslee said the governor acknowledged Tuesday that people will disagree with his decision. As to the suggestion that Inslee was usurping his power, Attorney General Rob Ferguson said Tuesday the decision was within Inslee's authority as governor, and spokesman David Postman said the public can judge who was right on that point.

To read Ferguson's press release on the legality of the moratorium, click here to go inside the blog.


OLYMPIA— Attorney General Bob Ferguson today issued the following statements regarding Gov. Jay Inslee’s announcement that he is implementing a moratorium on all executions as long as he serves as 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.”

Article III, Section 9 of the Washington Constitution and RCW 10.01.120 grant the Governor authority to issue reprieves — or stays of execution— as he announced he intended to do today.

Washington currently has nine death row inmates.  All nine are challenging their convictions in state or federal court.  The Attorney General’s Office is handling the four cases currently in federal court.

The Office of Attorney General represents the state of Washington when death row inmates file “habeas corpus” petitions— or challenges to their convictions or sentences—with the federal courts. The Attorney General’s Office also represents the Department of Corrections in state and federal court litigation challenging death row inmates’ conditions of confinement and DOC’s execution policies and procedures.

“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. 


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About this blog

Jim Camden is a veteran political reporter for The Spokesman-Review.


Jonathan Brunt is an enterprise reporter for The Spokesman-Review.


Kip Hill is a general assignments reporter for The Spokesman-Review.

Nick Deshais covers Spokane City Hall for The Spokesman-Review.

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