Crime

Death penalty repeal bill introduced in Washington state

The Associated Press and Herald staff

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, second from left, speaks Monday during a news conference at the Capitol in Olympia to announce that he and Attorney General Bob Ferguson, third from left, have proposed legislation to abolish the death penalty in the state.
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, second from left, speaks Monday during a news conference at the Capitol in Olympia to announce that he and Attorney General Bob Ferguson, third from left, have proposed legislation to abolish the death penalty in the state. AP

Gov. Jay Inslee and Attorney General Bob Ferguson on Monday announced proposed legislation to abolish the death penalty in Washington state.

Inslee imposed a moratorium on capital punishment in 2014, but repeal bills introduced since that time have stalled in the Legislature.

Inslee and Ferguson were joined by former Republican Attorney General Rob McKenna, Republican Sens. Maureen Walsh and Mark Miloscia and Democratic Sens. Jaime Pedersen and Reuven Carlyle and Rep. Tina Orwall, also a Democrat.

“This issue transcends politics,” Ferguson said.

No Tri-City inmates are currently on death row but one active case is being considered for the death penalty following the November abduction and murder of the wife of a Kennewick pawn shop owner.

Last month, Inslee invoked the moratorium as he reprieved Bellingham child-murderer Clark Elmore, who was sentenced to death for the rape and murder of a 14-year-old girl.

Reprieves aren’t pardons and don’t commute the sentences of those condemned to death. As long as the moratorium is in place, death-row inmates will remain in prison rather than face execution.

Elmore is the first of Washington’s death row inmates to exhaust his appeals since the moratorium was put in place. He remains at the state prison in Walla Walla, along with seven other death row inmates.

There have been 78 inmates, all men, put to death in Washington state since 1904. The last execution in the state came in September 2010, when Cal Coburn Brown died by lethal injection for the 1991 murder of a Seattle-area woman.

After spending nearly 17 years on death row, he was the first Washington inmate executed since 2001.

Former Richland resident Westley Allan Dodd was the first to be executed after capital punishment was reinstated in Washington more than 35 years ago. The serial killer and child molester was convicted in Vancouver, Wash., and hanged in 1993 at the Washington State Penitentiary.

Jeremy Sagastegui is the only case from Benton and Franklin counties in which the death penalty was applied. He died by lethal injection in 1998, three years after killing a 3-year-old boy and two women in Finley.

In Benton County, Theresa Wiltse, 49, is charged with aggravated first-degree murder and first-degree kidnapping for the November 2016 abduction and death of Sandra Harris of Kennewick.

The only two possible sentences for an aggravated murder conviction are life in prison or death. Prosecutor Andy Miller has yet to say if he plans to seek the death penalty. However, Michael Iaria, a Seattle attorney who is qualified to handle a death penalty case, has been appointed to assist Kennewick lawyer Sam Swanberg on the case.

In November 2015, the Washington Association of Prosecuting Attorneys — a nonprofit and nonpartisan organization that supports county prosecutors and lobbies on their behalf — released a public statement saying voters should be able to weigh in on the issue.

The association encouraged Inslee and the Legislature to place a referendum on the ballot.

The death penalty is currently authorized by the federal government and 31 states, including Washington and Oregon, which also currently has a moratorium in place. Pennsylvania and Colorado also have death penalty moratoriums.

The death penalty has been overturned or abolished in 19 states and the District of Columbia. The latest was Delaware, whose Supreme Court last year declared the state’s death penalty law unconstitutional

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