Gov. Suspends Death Penalty In Wash. State

Feb 11, 2014

No one will be executed in the state of Washington as long as Gov. Jay Inslee is in office, the governor said Tuesday.

"Equal justice under the law is the primary responsibility of our state. And in death penalty cases, I am not convinced equal justice is being served," Inslee said.

The governor, who previously supported the death penalty, said he decided to issue the moratorium after a months-long review of strong arguments on both sides of the issue, as well as a visit to the Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla where nine inmates are currently on death row. But Inslee said his decision wasn’t based on just those nine people.

“I don’t question their guilt or the gravity of their crimes. They get no mercy from me. This action today does not commute their sentences or issue any pardons to any offender,” he said, adding death row inmates will instead receive a reprieve. That means those inmates will stay in prison for life, and they may face the death penalty again under a different governor.

The Reasons For The Governor's Decision

The governor cited several reasons for his decision, including the costs of an execution and related litigation, which exceeds that of lifelong incarceration. And the death row sentencing process, which is “neither swift nor certain,” emotionally taxes the family members of the victim for years, he said.

Also, there is no proof that the death penalty serves as a deterrent to murder, Inslee said, and the penalty is not always given to the most heinous criminals.

“In 2006, state Supreme Court Justice Charles Johnson wrote that in our state, “the death penalty is like lightning, randomly striking some defendants and not others,” he said. “I believe that’s too much uncertainty.”

Asked why he issued a moratorium instead of commuting the sentences of the state’s nine death row inmates, Inslee said he believes this approach, which he sees as a more modest use of his executive power, will spark conversation about capital punishment. 

Victim's Father: 'I Think His Decision Has Prolonged My Agony'

The news came as a disappointment to Frank Holden, who has been grieving the death of his 12-year-old daughter for more than two decades.

The Idaho man has been waiting nearly that long for her killer, Jonathan Lee Gentry, to be executed. He thought that wait might finally be coming to an end. Then about 7 p.m. Monday, he got a courtesy call from Inslee, telling him about the moratorium. 

“I told him I was very disappointed in him doing this, and pretty much said there were no more words for us to be talking about,” Holden said.

Holden’s daughter Cassie was visiting her mother in Bremerton when she was bludgeoned to death by Gentry. The victim’s says the governor’s announcement came just as he thought an execution date was nearing.

“Well, I think his decision has prolonged my agony, not shortened it. It’s reopened a lot of wounds,” he said.

Mixed Reactions From Lawmakers 

Rep. Rueven Carlyle, D-Seattle, who has sponsored legislation to repeal the death penalty, praised the governor’s move.

“He has opened a legitimate conversation that gives the Legislature the ability to not only bring legislation forward in the coming years in a very thoughtful way, but to step up to engage the public in that conversation,” Carlyle said.

The lead Republican on the House Judiciary Committee had a very different response.

“The governor’s decision is a distraction from the issues” and one that “prolongs “closure” for the victims,” said Rep. Jay Rodne, R-North Bend, in a statement.

Meanwhile, prosecutors noted the law hasn’t changed. If they get a new aggravated murder case, the death penalty is still an option. But, of course, all executions are now indefinitely halted.