Peninsula Daily News
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Inslee announced his moratorium on capital punishment at a news conference. It reverses a stand the former congressman took during his campaign against then-Attorney General Rob McKenna in 2012.
His suspension of the death penalty while he’s governor doesn’t do away with capital punishment, which Washington has had for more than a century.
Instead, Inslee said he will issue a reprieve if any execution warrant comes to his desk.
He insisted that he is not issuing a blanket commutation of sentences, and anyone who gets a reprieve from him could still be executed by a successor.
“Nobody is getting out of prison, period,” Inslee said.
He expects the moratorium to spark a conversation about the death penalty in Washington, which voters endorsed in the 1970s.
“I am not convinced equal justice is being served,” Inslee said.
The governor has the constitutional power to commute executions, the state’s top lawyer said later Tuesday.
“Washington’s constitution and state statutes grant the governor significant powers over the fate of individuals sentenced to death,” Attorney General Bob Ferguson said in a written statement.
“Consequently, the governor has the authority to hit the ‘pause’ button for executions in Washington.”
However, Ferguson said, his office will continue to represent the state when death-row inmates file challenges to their convictions or sentences with the federal courts.
Currently, there are four such cases before federal courts, he said.
Inslee, a Democrat and fifth-generation Washingtonian, said his change of mind leading to the moratorium comes after reviewing the death penalty’s application in the state with his staff during the past year.
The governor did not say whether he would ask the Legislature to take up the issue.
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, he said.
“The use of the death penalty in this state is unequally applied, sometimes dependent on the budget of the county where the crime occurred,” he said.
“That is a system that falls short of equal justice under the law and makes it difficult for the state to justify the use of the death penalty.”
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, and 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 moratorium],” he said.
Washington has executed 78 people, all men, since 1904, but there were several periods where capital punishment was abolished, either by the Legislature or the courts.
That includes a 30-year hiatus starting in 1963, lengthened 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.
That forced states to rewrite their laws.
Washington voters overwhelmingly passed an initiative calling for the death penalty to be reinstituted in 1975, and the Legislature passed a law that would pass judicial muster in 1981.
Inslee said he wasn’t requesting legislation abolishing the death penalty, but if a bill came to his desk “consistent with this position,” he would sign it.
The text of Inslee’s statement Tuesday can be found at http://tinyurl.com/pdn-executions.