Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

State carries out first execution in nine years

Brown put to death for 1991 crime

Cal Coburn Brown was executed early today by lethal injection for the rape, torture and murder of a Seattle-area woman in 1991.

It was Washington state’s first execution since 2001 and the 78th in the state’s history.

Prison officials say Brown, 52, died at 12:56 a.m., after a four-member team injected a lethal one-drug cocktail in the execution chamber of the Washington State Penitentiary.

The father, brother and two sisters of his victim, Holly Washa, 21, witnessed the execution, as did King County prosecutor Dan Satterberg.

In the hours leading up to the execution, opponents of the death penalty gathered in Spokane, outside the prison in Walla Walla and across the state.

When Washa’s name was announced at a candlelight vigil in Spokane on Thursday evening, community members stepped forward to light candles in honor of the 21-year-old woman murdered in 1991. When vigil organizers announced the name of her killer, 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.

After 16 years on death row, Brown’s appeals ran out, as Gov. Chris Gregoire, the Washington Supreme Court, the U.S. Supreme Court and the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals all rejected Brown’s pleas to stay the execution.

In Spokane, vigil participants 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 Thursday’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.

Not too far from the Gonzaga campus, the Peace and Justice Action League of Spokane organized a nondenominational ceremony followed by another vigil on the steps of the Spokane County Courthouse. 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.”

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. His last meal included meat pizza and apple pie.

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

Brown was 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.

Satterberg, the King County prosecutor who steadfastly supported the death sentence in this case, was among those witnessing 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 beforehand. “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.

Originally from San Jose, Calif., Brown had 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.