September 9, 2010 in Nation/World, Region

Vigils mark hours leading up to execution

Staff and wire reports
 
Associated Press photo

Cal Coburn Brown
(Full-size photo)

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Read more about the case at the Sirens and Gavels blog.

When Holly Washa’s name was announced at a candlelight vigil in Spokane this evening, community members stepped forward to light candles in honor of the 21-year-old woman raped and murdered in 1991. When vigil organizers announced the name of her killer, Cal Colburn Brown, more people stepped forward to light candles.

The glow of all of the candles, representing the victim and her perpetrator, illuminated faces that gathered for a prayer vigil on what they anticipated would be Brown’s last night.

Brown, 52, is scheduled to be executed at 12:01 a.m. Friday at the Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla. The U.S. Supreme Court, the state Supreme Court, U.S. District Court in Seattle and the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Thursday denied separate requests to halt the execution.

Wednesday afternoon Gov. Chris Gregoire announced she would not excuse Brown from execution. After 16 years on Death Row, Brown’s appeals ran out, and the group gathered to show their appreciation for all human life, and stand against killing for killing, they said.

“There’s a lot of violence in the world. What this man did is a violent act, but we can’t condone killing him. At some point we have to say it’s not OK to have this retribution,” said Linda Bland, who attended tonight’s vigil at Gonzaga University’s Crosby Center, sponsored by University Ministry and Catholic Charities.

Gonzaga Freshman Jay Orth said he attended to show support for life in general.

“I think all life is precious. Sometimes we question why people do things but we have to remember God made everyone beautiful and everyone should be respected,” Orth said.

Mary Pat Treuthart, 57, a law professor at Gonzaga University, drove to Walla Walla to protest the execution.

“I want to make a very strong statement to the citizens of Washington and to Gov. Gregoire that many of us are opposed to killing people in our names,” she said. “And I’m angry, saddened, and embarrassed that the U.S. is still using the death penalty to punish anyone for their crimes.”

Not too far from the Gonzaga campus, the Peace and Justice Action League of Spokane organized a non-denominational ceremony followed by another vigil on the steps of the Spokane County Court House. A group of about 15 people huddled against a breeze, determined to stay out until midnight, and the news of whether Brown was executed.

“I want to express that I don’t want any part in killing a human being. Regardless of what he’s done, the state and I have no business killing him,” said Michael Poulin. “It’s a sad reflection on our society we have to kill to show that killing is wrong.”

PJALS Director Liz Moore said their vigil was intended to show their support for alternative solutions.

“We know this execution is being done in our names and we want to be clear support is not unanimous,” she said.

Gregoire, who opposes the death penalty yet refused to commute Brown’s sentence to life without parole, said Thursday she expected “to be up through the night,” in contact with her legal counsel and Corrections Secretary Eldon Vail. Brown’s execution was to be the first in her tenure as governor, although the state executed four prisoners while she served as attorney general.

Gregoire said in denying Brown’s clemency request that she wouldn’t substitute her personal views for the laws of the state.

Asked if she thought if capital punishment was “worth it” in view of the expenses to the public of multiple appeals that are funded on both sides by taxpayers, Gregoire said she couldn’t be objective enough to answer that question on Thursday.

Washa’s family wants and deserves some closure that they feel they will get with Brown’s execution, she said. “I don’t think it’s an issue of dollars and cents.”

Brown spent much of Thursday talking on the telephone with his attorneys and family members, said Belinda Stewart, communications and outreach director for the state Department of Corrections. He made the request for his last meal — a combination meat pizza, apple pie and root beer.

“He is resigned to what is going to happen tonight,” Stewart said Thursday. “He’s aware, he knows and he’s resigned.”

Brown would be the first Washington inmate to die by a one-drug lethal injection.

He was just hours from being injected with a three-drug cocktail in March 2009 when he received a last-minute stay of execution. The state Supreme Court granted the stay because another inmate had been granted a hearing on the constitutionality of the state’s lethal injection method.

Since then, Washington changed to a one-drug execution method and named a new four-member team to carry out the death sentence. Members of the team have not been publicly identified.

King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg, who has steadfastly supported the death sentence in this case, said he would witness the execution.

“It’s important for me to be there, first to be with the family, who has been through every step of this case for the last 19 years,” he said. “It’s important for me too, if we have a death penalty in this state, to not shy away from the ultimate administration of that sentence. I feel I need to be there to represent the system.”

Brown confessed to kidnapping Washa, of Burien, Wash., at knifepoint, then raping, torturing and killing her. He left her body in the trunk of a car.

Brown confessed while California authorities were interrogating him over an attack on a woman there.

Satterberg said Washa’s father, brother and two sisters had traveled to Washington from Nebraska to witness the execution. Washa had moved to the Seattle area from Ogallala, Neb.

“They are always going to miss Holly,” he said, but added that attending the execution marks the end of their commitment. “They made a moral commitment to themselves and their lost loved one that they were going to be here every step of the way for her.”

Originally from San Jose, Calif., Brown has a history of violent crime. He was convicted of assaults in California and Oregon, and served seven years in an Oregon prison. Brown was released on parole just two months before Washa’s death in 1991.

Since 1904, 77 men have been put to death in Washington. The last inmate executed was 58-year-old James Homer Elledge, who died by lethal injection for the 1998 stabbing and strangulation of Eloise Fitzner, 47, at the Lynnwood church where he was a janitor.

Eight men, including Brown, are on death row at the state penitentiary.

Staff writers Asia Hege and Jim Camden, and the Associated Press contributed to this report.


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