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Abolish death penalty in Washington

The following editorial is from the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin.

The time has come to abolish the death penalty in Washington state.

Up until 2010, when the last execution took place at the Washington State penitentiary, we accepted the death penalty as an option to punish those convicted of the most heinous acts imaginable.

The state has used capital punishment sparingly – and appropriately – since the death penalty was reinstated in 1981 and used for the first time in 30 years in 1993.

Five inmates have been executed – two by hanging and three by lethal injection – since capital punishment was reinstated.

A total of 110 executions have been carried out in the state (and before that territories) since 1849.

In 2009, the Union-Bulletin did an in-depth look at the death penalty.

It was clear the costs of implementing the death penalty were enormous – about $20 million from 1981 through 2009 – with the appeals processing accounting for most of the spending.

Sentencing some to death is far more expensive than life in prison without the possibility of parole.

The reasons to continue the death penalty have been based more on emotion – the urge to see a brutal killer pay the ultimate price – rather than as a deterrent to crime, or even justice.

But Gov. Jay Inslee has put a moratorium on executions under his watch. It’s a stand that seems to have support throughout the state.

Last week, a bipartisan group of lawmakers – including Sen. Maureen Walsh, R-College Place – announced they are backing Inslee and Attorney General Bob Ferguson in an effort to abolish capital punishment in the state.

“Death penalty sentences are unequally applied in the state of Washington, they are frequently overturned and they are always costly,” Inslee said. “I could not in good conscience allow executions to continue under my watch as governor under these conditions.”

Inslee, a Democrat like Ferguson, was joined in support of abolishing the death penalty by Rob McKenna, a Republican who served as state attorney general and ran against Inslee for governor.

McKenna said that death penalty appeals are so lengthy that “this is a system in which justice is delayed and delayed to a point where the system is broken. It isn’t working anymore. It is time to move on.”

The legal costs will continue to go higher and higher.

Prosecutors are not likely to seek the death penalty because of the enormous costs. But even if a conviction is obtained, those sentenced to execution spend years – decades – behind bars as the legal process unfolds at a glacial pace.

Meanwhile, the families of victims wait for resolution.

A better approach, given the reality of the justice system, is to bring closure to these cases more quickly.

A sentence of life in prison with no possibility of parole serves justice.


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