Washington Governor Jay Inslee issued a moratorium on the death penalty Tuesday morning after months of reviewing capital punishment in the state.
"Equal justice under the law is the state’s primary responsibility. And in death penalty cases, I’m not convinced equal justice is being served," Inslee said Tuesday. "The use of the death penalty in this state is unequally applied, sometimes dependent on the budget of the county where the crime occurred."
Inslee's decision applies to future cases that come to his desk for action; the moratorium does not commute the sentences of anyone already on death row. At present there are nine people on death row at the Walla Walla State Penitentiary, including three from the Spokane area.
- Dewayne Woods was convicted in 1997 of aggravated first degree murder for the killings of Telisha Shaver and Jade Moore in Spokane County.
- Robert Yates was convicted in 2002 of murdering Melinda Mercer and Connie LaFontaine Ellis in Pierce County. Previously Yates agreed to a plea deal in Spokane County on murders committed in this area in exchange for being spared the death penalty.
- Byron Scherf was convicted last year of aggravated first degree murder for the killing of Corrections Officer Jayme Beindl while he was being held at the Monroe Correctional Complex in western Washington.
Inslee stressed that the moratorium is not a show of mercy for the criminals awaiting execution.
"Let me say clearly that this policy decision is not about the nine men on death row in Walla Walla," Inslee said. "I don’t question their guilt or the gravity of their crimes. They get no mercy from me. This action does not commute their sentences or issue any pardons to any offender. But I do not believe their horrific offenses override the problems that exist in our capital punishment system."
Since 1904, 78 prisoners have been executed in Washington State. However, since 1981, 32 people have been sentenced to death but of those 18 had their sentences commuted to life in prison and one individual was set free. Only five individuals have been executed since 1993, the last one being Cal Coburn Brown, who was executed by lethal injection on Sept. 10, 2010 for the murder of Holly Washa.
Inslee said that he knows the death penalty is a heated and emotional issue and that his announcement places Washington into a growing national conversation. At present, there are 18 states and the District of Columbia which do not have a death penalty statute.
"With my action today I expect Washington state will join a growing national conversation about capital punishment. I welcome that and I’m confident that our citizens will engage in this very important debate," Inslee said.