OLYMPIA — The state Supreme Court stayed the execution of Cal Coburn Brown on Thursday, just hours before he was to die for the murder of a 22-year-old woman.
In a 5-4 ruling, the high court, led by Justice Charles Johnson, granted the last-minute appeal that was filed by Brown’s lawyers on Wednesday after Thurston County Superior Court Judge Chris Wickham denied a stay of execution.
Brown was scheduled to die by lethal injection early Friday morning at the Washington State Penitentiary at Walla Walla.
“I am incredibly grateful the Supreme Court has granted us this stay,” said one of Brown’s attorneys, Suzanne Elliott. “It was the right thing to do.”
The ruling said the execution is stayed while Brown’s case goes back to Thurston County Superior Court, where another Washington death row inmate, Darold Ray Stenson, was recently granted a May hearing on the validity of the lethal injection procedure. Brown’s lawyers contended that it would be wrong to execute Brown even as Stenson won a delay by raising the same points.
The ruling came shortly after the conclusion of a three-hour hearing of the Washington State Clemency and Pardons Board. The board was split 2-2 on the question of whether Gov. Chris Gregoire should grant Brown’s request for a temporary reprieve or clemency from his execution. Since the board serves only an advisory function, any final decision would have come down to Gregoire.
Brown was convicted of carjacking Holly Washa at knifepoint near Seattle-Tacoma International Airport in 1991. He robbed, raped and tortured the young woman from the south Seattle suburb of Burien before stabbing and strangling her.
Earlier in the week, the state Supreme Court rejected Brown’s arguments that the death penalty is applied irrationally in Washington and that he should not be executed because he suffers from a mental illness.
According to court documents, Brown suffers from bipolar disorder, but was not being treated at the time of the murder. Since 1994, prison staff have prescribed medication to control the condition.
Brown, whose death sentence was overturned by a federal appeals court in 2007 but later reinstated by the U.S. Supreme Court, confessed to Washa’s torture and murder.
He had been out of an Oregon prison just two months for an attack seven years earlier.
Near the airport, Brown got Washa’s attention by pointing to the rear tire of her vehicle, indicating a problem. When the young woman opened her car door to investigate, he jumped in and held her at knifepoint.
For the next 36 hours, Brown raped and tortured Washa in a motel room before killing her. Days later, arrested for attacking another woman in California, Brown directed police to Washa’s body in the trunk of her car.
Since 1904, 77 men have been put to death in Washington state. Brown would be just the fifth inmate executed since 1963.
Brown was convicted of aggravated first-degree murder on Dec. 10, 1993, and sentenced to death 17 days later.