OLYMPIA – Washington will not execute anyone on death row while Jay Inslee is governor.
Inslee announced a moratorium Tuesday on capital punishment, saying he will issue a reprieve if any execution warrant comes to his desk. He’s not issuing a blanket commutation of sentences, and anyone who gets a reprieve from him could still be executed by a successor.
He expects the moratorium to spark a conversation about the death penalty in Washington.
“I am not convinced equal justice is being served,” said Inslee, adding he has changed his mind on capital punishment, which he previously supported for some cases. “During my term, we will not be executing people.”
The current system has too many doubts and too many flaws, he said. The death penalty is neither swift nor certain, with those sentenced remaining on death row for years and families of victims forced to wait through a long series of appeals.
The state has a “perfectly safe alternative” to execution, he said: life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Inslee said he arrived at this decision after months of study, which included a trip to the state penitentiary in Walla Walla. There, he talked to administrators and guards, but not inmates. He also talked to some family members of victims in capital punishment and other homicide cases.
“I talked to family members who are going to be disappointed” by the decision, he said.
The state has nine inmates on death row, including Robert Lee Yates Jr., a serial killer from Spokane who was sentenced to life in prison in a plea bargain for murders in Spokane but was later tried in Pierce County and sent to death row for two murders there.
Also awaiting execution is Dwayne Woods, who was sentenced in 1997 for two counts of first-degree murder committed in Spokane County in 1996.
Not on death row, however, is the state’s most prolific serial murderer, Gary Ridgway, the Green River killer, who received life in prison in a plea bargain that involved him helping authorities find the remains of his many victims.
Attorney General Bob Ferguson said the state will continue to defend those death sentences as they move through the court system. “The governor has the authority to hit the ‘pause’ button on executions in Washington,” Ferguson said.
Longtime opponents of the death penalty applauded Inslee’s decision. “I believe the death penalty is below us as a civilized society and I look forward to a respectful, authentic public conversation about legislation on this issue,” said Rep. Reuven Carlyle, D-Seattle.
But Rep. Jay Rodne, R-Snoqualmie, called the announcement a political distraction at the expense of crime victims. “This must be a difficult day for these families as they are confronted with the reality that the governor cares more about a few convicted killers than justice for their loved ones,” he said in a prepared statement.
Washington has executed 78 people, all men, since 1904, the state Department of Corrections reports, but there were several periods where capital punishment was abolished, either by the Legislature or the courts. There was a 30-year hiatus starting in 1963, caused in part by a 1972 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that capital punishment as it was then being applied in the states was arbitrary and unconstitutional.
States were forced to rewrite their laws.
Washington voters overwhelmingly passed an initiative calling for the death penalty to be reinstituted in 1975.
The first person to be executed under the current law was Westley Allan Dodd in 1993, and four others have been executed since then.