OLYMPIA – Washington’s Supreme Court has rejected a petition for release from death row inmate Jonathan Lee Gentry, sentenced for the murder of a 12-year-old girl in 1988.
Gentry was condemned in 1991 for the killing of Cassie Holden in Bremerton. The girl, in town from Pocatello, Idaho, to visit her mother for the summer, was killed with blows from a 2-pound rock after she went out for an afternoon walk near a golf course.
Gentry, who is black, argued that his trial was tainted by inappropriate, racial comments from the prosecutor and a witness; Holden was white. He sought to apply a decision the court made in an unrelated case in 2011 that was highly critical of race-based prosecutorial misconduct.
In that case, State v. Monday, the court determined that when a prosecutor commits such misconduct, it’s the burden of the state to prove it didn’t affect the trial.
Justice Debra Stephens wrote for the court Thursday that the possibility of such bias is “of extremely grave concern affecting the legitimacy of the jury’s verdict,” but the decision in Monday does not apply to earlier cases, including Gentry’s.
Nevertheless, because Gentry is facing execution, they took another look at his claims of bias, even though the court had rejected them on his earlier appeal.
Once again, they concluded that Gentry had shown no evidence of racial bias at his trial.
Justice Charles Wiggins dissented on another point. He said the case should have been sent back to Superior Court for a statistical review of whether Washington’s death penalty is imposed in a racially discriminatory manner.