OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) - Gov. Jay Inslee said Tuesday he was suspending the use of the death penalty in Washington state, announcing a move that he hopes will enable officials to "join a growing national conversation about capital punishment."
"Personally, I've been advocating to get rid of capital punishment since I was an adult. For me, this is amazing news."
- Tom Tangney
"This seems like an ideologically driven move by the governor. I'm not hearing the governor offer any solutions to problems he perceives -- just let's stop the death penalty." - Jason Rantz
"Every part of me that is logical and the part of me that is a Christian, which is a big part, I feel like I should be against the death penalty....I support the death penalty because of revenge."
- Dori Monson
"I don't buy that living your life out in jail is worse than the death penalty because everyone on death row is appealing." - Luke Burbank
The Democrat said he came to the decision after months of review, meetings with family members of victims, prosecutors and law enforcement.
"There have been too many doubts raised about capital punishment, there are too many flaws in this system today," Inslee said at a news conference. "There is too much at stake to accept an imperfect system."
Inslee said that the use of the death penalty is inconsistent and unequal. The governor's staff briefed lawmakers about the move on Monday night and Tuesday morning.
Inslee's moratorium, which he says will be in place for as long as he's governor, means that if a death penalty case comes to his desk, he will issue a reprieve, which isn't a pardon and doesn't commute the sentences of those condemned to death. Rather than face capital punishment, death row inmates will simply remain in prison.
"During my term, we will not be executing people," said Inslee. But "nobody is getting out of prison, period."
Last year, Maryland abolished the death penalty, the 18th state to do so and the sixth in the last six years.
Rep. Reuven Carlyle, a Democrat from Seattle who has introduced death penalty abolition bills the past several years, said that the moratorium provides a "profound shift" on the momentum for possible future permanent bans.
"He has opened a legitimate conversation that gives the Legislature the ability to not only bring legislation forward in the coming years, but to step up and engage the public in that conversation," he said.
There have been 78 inmates, all men, put to death in Washington state since 1904.
Nine men await execution at the Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla. The Attorney General's Office said all nine are challenging their convictions in state or federal court. The Attorney General's Office is handling the four cases currently in federal court.
"Consistent with the governor's announcement, the Office of the Attorney General will continue to defend the state against cases brought by death row inmates challenging their convictions and sentences," said AG Bob Ferguson in a news release Tuesday.
The state Supreme Court just last month rejected a petition for release from death row inmate Jonathan Lee Gentry, sentenced for the murder of a 12-year-old girl in 1988. Gentry could be the first execution in the state since September 2010, when Cal Coburn Brown died by lethal injection for the 1991 murder of a Seattle-area woman. A federal stay had recently been lifted in Gentry's case, and a remaining state stay on his execution was expected to be lifted this month.
Senate Republican Leader Mark Schoesler of Ritzville said he thought Inslee's move was "out of touch."
He noted that lawmakers have previously rejected opportunities to pass such measures over the years, "because the public and Legislature support keeping that tool."
The decision by the governor comes following a recent decision by the state Department of Corrections, which is in the process of changing its execution protocol to allow witnesses to executions to see the entire process, including the insertion of intravenous catheters during a lethal injection.
The new witness protocol, currently a draft that is in its final stages of approval, includes the use of television monitors to show the inmate entering the death chamber and being strapped down, as well as the insertion of the IVs, which had both previously been shielded from public view.
Through public disclosure requests, the AP had sought information about any potential changes to the execution protocols. State corrections officials spoke with the AP about the new procedures late last month.
The change is in response to a 2012 federal appeals court ruling that said all parts of an execution must be fully open to public witnesses. That ruling was sparked by a case brought by the AP and other news organizations who challenged Idaho's policy to shield the insertion of IV catheters from public view, in spite of a 2002 ruling from the same court that said every aspect of an execution should be open to witnesses.
King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg said on Tuesday the decision should be made by voters:
The legal implications of the Governor's "reprieve policy" appear limited; our law remains unchanged. In the short term, it is likely to cause more delay, expense and uncertainty. A moratorium alone will not resolve the issues raised by the Governor. Let's have an informed public debate and let the citizens of Washington decide if we should keep capital punishment in our state.
Seattle Mayor Ed Murray said he supports the governor's decision:
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