Dori: Ahead of likely death penalty repeal, I still struggle with the issue

Feb 6, 2019, 6:57 PM

Death penalty...

The execution chamber at the Washington state Penitentiary is shown with the witness gallery behind glass, at right, in Walla Walla. (AP)


One of the issues that I have very publicly wrestled with, pretty much my entire career, is the death penalty. I believe that it is the worst part of me that has endorsed the death penalty, and that the better part of me says that life is precious, and it’s not up to us to play God.

In Olympia, it looks like there’s almost no opposition to the Democrats’ effort to abolish the death penalty this Legislative session. The state Supreme Court ruled last year that the death penalty is unconstitutional, and Gov. Jay Inslee had previously declared a moratorium on capital punishment in Washington.

I think that the part of me that still clings to wanting the death penalty is a revenge factor. I do not really believe that we are safer because of the death penalty.

RELATED: I’m horribly conflicted about the death penalty

There are some provable ways to contradict what I just said. There is Jaymie Biendl, the prison guard in Monroe, who was murdered while at work in the prison by a guy already serving life without the possibility of parole. He got a free pass for that death. He suffers no additional consequence for that murder.

And so, if someone is already in prison for life and then kills one of our correctional officers, how can we say that that person should get no additional punishment? And of course, the only way to escalate life without parole is the death penalty.

But will I be horribly upset if this Legislative session says Washington is no longer a death penalty state? No, I won’t be. I do not cling unyieldingly to endorsement of the death penalty.

What the Democrats are pitching is that the death penalty has been disproportionately applied in terms of race. There is far more compelling data that says it has not been unevenly applied here in Washington, that it’s been applied in an almost identical proportion to the proportion of violent crime committed by various groups.

The reason that I’d be okay with abolishing the death penalty is — even for those people who have committed horrific crimes like murder and rape — I don’t think it’s up to us to play God on a human life.

Just as with the current abortion issues in the news, I don’t think we should play God on a human life moments before birth. I also don’t think we ever have the right to decide to take another human being’s life as a punishment.

But I wrestle with it. Victims’ families often say that they would like to see the ultimate punishment.

Do I think it’s the best part of me that likes the revenge factor, that wants to see the perpetrator suffer a bit of what the victim had to suffer? No. But when I hear victims’ family members give compelling testimony, I still think that should be given some weight in this debate about the death penalty.

And what about the people in prison for life? They still have moments of joy. Maybe it’s a joke with a fellow inmate. Maybe it’s a ray of sunlight coming through the prison bars.

Whatever it is, it’s joy that their victims will never feel again. And that goes for the victims’ families as well. When they kill a child, the  parents of that child suffer every moment of every day for the rest of their lives.

It’s so rarely applied and I struggle with it so much.

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Dori: Ahead of likely death penalty repeal, I still struggle with the issue