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Washington considers doing away with the death penalty

The execution chamber at the Washington State Penitentiary is shown as viewed from the witness gallery, in Walla Walla. Cal Coburn Brown was the last execution in Washington, in 2010, for the murder of Holly Washa in 1991. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)

Instead of capital punishment, Washington could sentence those who are convicted of aggravated first degree murder to life in prison without parole.

A House committee considers a bill Wednesday to abolish the death penalty.

There are criminal justice issues and financial concerns related to this possible change in Washington law. While I’d like to read your thoughts on the ethics of the death penalty. I’ve looked into the financial arguments.

In terms of trying the case, a Washington State Bar Association 2007 report concluded:

“It costs significantly more to try a capital case to final verdict than to try the same case as an aggravated murder case where the penalty sought is life without possibility of parole.

At the trial level, death penalty cases are estimated to generate roughly $470,000 in additional costs to the prosecution and defense over the cost of trying the same case as an aggravated murder without the death penalty and costs of $47,000 to $70,000 for court personnel.

On direct appeal, the cost of appellate defense averages $100,000 more in death penalty cases, than in non-death penalty murder cases.

Personal restraint petitions filed in death penalty cases on average cost an additional $137,000 in public defense costs.”

An organization called the Death Penalty Information Center, which opposes capital punishment, cites the most extreme example of costs.

In California, death row costs taxpayers $114 million a year beyond the cost of imprisoning convicts for life. The state has executed 13 people since 1976 for a total of about $250 million per execution.

A study from Duke University found that the death penalty costs North Carolina $2.16 million more per execution than the a non-death penalty murder case with a sentence of life imprisonment.

Other states are considering similar measures to do away with capital punishment.

Oregon’s governor recently imposed a moratorium on the death penalty just weeks before a scheduled execution there.

The last execution in Washington state was nearly three years ago when Cal Coburn Brown died by lethal injection for the murder of Holly Washa.

There are currently eight people on death row in Washington.


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