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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

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Rep. Jenny Graham: Eliminating the death penalty makes us all less safe

Rep. Jenny Graham

It has often been said that the only thing necessary for evil to exist is for good people to remain silent.

As the sister of one of the victims of the Green River Killer, and as a survivor of unspeakable abuse myself, I know the deep and profound reality of this axiom.

Right now, in the state Legislature, there is a deafening silence surrounding one of the most important and impactful public safety policy changes of our generation: eliminating the death penalty from Washington state law, via Senate Bill 5339.

I urge victims, their family members and loved ones, as well those in our community concerned with safety and justice, to speak out. Write a letter to the paper; to all of your elected officials. Come to the state capital and make your voice heard!

If you don’t, I can guarantee there will be more victims and tragedies, and less truth and justice in all of our futures.

Let me explain.

For those concerned about mistakenly putting to death the innocent, we have advances in DNA and other surveillance technology that continues to shrink this possibility.

For those concerned about the costs associated with the death penalty, I ask: At what price, justice? At what price, truth? At what price, safety?

Deciding whether or not to keep our communities and children safe should not come down to a dollars-and-cents decision; we’ll either pay now to keep people safe, or pay later with more victims, more trials and more public anguish.

For those concerned about the “eye for an eye” aspect of the death penalty, this debate is not about killing more people. Keeping the death penalty alive in state law is about retaining the most important tool a prosecutor has in place to negotiate with violent criminals, murderers and rapists.

I know. I lived it. And if not for a plea bargain deal made between Gary Ridgway and King County Prosecutor Norm Maleng in 2003, haunting questions would have gone unanswered and justice denied for so many.

As part of his plea bargain with prosecutors, Ridgway agreed to disclose the locations of many of his victims who were still missing. All in an effort to be spared the death penalty.

Victims’ families were finally able to give their loved ones a proper burial.

In fact, Maleng said at the time that the names of 41 victims would not be included in the crimes attributed to Ridgway if it weren’t for the plea deal. His quotes:

“We could have gone forward with seven counts, but that is all we could have ever hoped to solve. At the end of that trial, whatever the outcome, there would have been lingering doubts about the rest of these crimes. This agreement was the avenue to the truth. And in the end, the search for the truth is still why we have a criminal justice system.

“Gary Ridgway does not deserve our mercy. He does not deserve to live. The mercy provided by today’s resolution is directed not at Ridgway, but toward the families who have suffered so much, and to the larger community. Justice and mercy: for the victims, the families, and the community. That is why we entered into this agreement.”

The effort to reduce the consequences for violent criminal behavior also includes Senate Bill 5819, which would eliminate the penalty of life in prison without parole. It appears that some of our elected officials are more concerned about the offenders and criminals than the victims and the safety of every community in our state.

You may not have been violently assaulted or know someone who has been raped or murdered. But could you be next?

Violent sexual offenders are being dumped back into our communities since the governor stopped enforcing the death penalty just a few years ago. What’s the future look like, years from now, when violent sexual offenders are routinely released back into society after serving minimal time because the harsher sentences have been eliminated or negotiated away in plea deals?

Lastly, without the death penalty at least being on the table, there is no incentive for those already serving life in prison to behave. Our prison guards and prison workers bear the brunt of this shortsightedness by putting their lives on the line. They are being forced to take unnecessary risks with inmates who have no fear of any additional punishment.

I ask the Legislature to once again show mercy to the victims, their families and loved ones, by rejecting Senate Bills 5339 and 5819. Don’t abandon truth and justice for a few extra dollars and political correctness. Keep all options on the table for prosecutors in an effort to keep our children and our communities safe.

Rep. Jenny Graham, R-Spokane, represents the 6th Legislative District and serves on the House Public Safety Committee. Her sister was a victim of the Green River Killer, Gary Ridgway.