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Father’s 26-year wait for justice continues after Inslee’s moratorium on death penalty

The execution chamber at the Washington State Penitentiary is shown as viewed from the witness gallery, in Walla Walla, Wash. Gov. Jay Inslee announced Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2014, that he is suspending the use of the death penalty in Washington state, but the moratorium does not commute the sentences of people currently condemned to death. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)

A father who’s been waiting 26 years to see justice served for his young daughter who was killed while out picking wildflowers for her mother says he’s extremely upset Washington state Gov. Jay Inslee is standing in the way of the death sentence ordered for her murderer.

Over 20 years ago, Frank Holden watched Jonathan Lee Gentry be sentenced to death for the murder of his 12-year-old daughter Cassie.

Cassie had been visiting her mother in Washington state. One evening, while her mother was fixing dinner, Cassie left the house to pick some flowers, something she’d enjoyed all her childhood. That was apparently, as her father puts it, when she found herself in the “wrong spot at the wrong time.”

Cassie’s body was found the following morning. Gentry, a 32-year-old out on bail following charges of rape, was later found to be responsible for the crime.

“There were eyewitnesses that put him there, of course the DNA and everything all fell together pointing the finger at him also,” Holden tells KIRO Radio’s Dori Monson. The DNA test was run twice, once at the time of the first trial and once again last year, he says. “Of course, it came back that he was definitely the perpetrator.”

After years of appeals, multiple courts maintained the sentence, and Gentry would have likely been executed this year, Holden says.

That was of course until Gov. Jay Inslee announced earlier this month that he was suspending the use of the death penalty in Washington state.

Holden got a call from the governor prior to his announcement. At first, Holden thought it was just a call regarding how everything would be carried out.

“Knowing that this was coming down, I thought he just kind of wanted my opinion and this is how things were going and so on and so forth, but he basically just called up and said he’s going to put a stop to it,” says Holden. “I just told him I was extremely disappointed after waiting all this time.”

For years, Holden held back, watching the murderer in court, always having to keep his emotions in check even as he sat in the same room as his daughter’s killer, trusting that the court process would find her justice.

“There was a lot of revenge that I felt like doing,” says Holden. “You try to control as much emotion as you possibly can. […] Me being in there and the jury being in there, I had to really kind of mind my P’s and Q’s so there wouldn’t be a mistrial because of something I did there when the jury was present and whatnot. But yeah, there was a lot of things that went through your mind.”

Finally, after decades of waiting, Holden thought his ordeal would finally be coming to an end. Once the sentence is carried out, he says it will definitely make a difference for him.

“I’m hoping that this is going to draw an end to a long ongoing dilemma that’s just total heartache, is what it’s been. I’m just hoping we can get some justice here.”

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.

So Gentry, the man convicted of killing Cassie Holden, will remain on death row and Frank Holden will continue to wait for justice.

Thank you to Ellis E. Conklin at the Seattle Weekly for introducing us to Frank Holden. Read Ellis’ in-depth story on Frank’s journey in The Seattle Weekly.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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