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WA Senate passes bill to repeal death penalty, measure heads to the House

The Washington state Senate passed a bill to repeal the state's death penalty. The measure now heads to the state House for consideration. (AP)

The state Senate has passed a bill to eliminate the death penalty in Washington, renewing the battle in Olympia.

The bill that passed in the Senate last week is the same bill that passed last session. It’s an ongoing request from Attorney General Bob Ferguson, sponsored by Democratic Senator Reuven Carlyle, who said a 2018 state Supreme Court ruling on Washington’s death penalty has led to confusion.

In the 2018 ruling, the court found Washington state’s death penalty unconstitutional as applied.

State Supreme Court ends death penalty in Washington

“The death penalty is invalid because it is imposed in an arbitrary and racially biased manner,” the justices wrote in their unanimous decision.

That left three possibilities: Leave it on the books as is — entirely unenforceable after the court’s decision — take legislative action to fix it, or take action to abolish it.

Carlyle says it’s time to abolish.

“It simply does not work effectively,” Carlyle said before a floor vote last week. “It’s not economically efficient. It’s not applied equitably across rural, and urban, and other jurisdictions, and there’s a great deal of subjectivity and discretion in a policy that does not fit well.”

Fellow Democrats agree.

“Probably only four counties can even afford to pursue death penalty cases and in the rest of the state, if you commit the exact same crime, you’re likely to go without that as a possibility for punishment,” said
Senator Jamie Pedersen.

The proposal to repeal Washington’s death penalty passed the Senate with a bipartisan 28-18 vote on Friday.

“It really is time for our branch to put the final nail in the coffin, so to speak, to eliminate this possibility to give certainty to everyone involved in the justice system that when someone is convicted of aggravated first-degree murder that they bear the consequence of spending the rest of their natural lives in prison,” Pedersen said.

Now, Republican Rep. Jenny Graham is rallying the troops to defeat the bill in the House.

Graham, whose sister was killed by Gary Ridgway (a.k.a. the Green River Killer), said without the death penalty she and other families of Gary Ridgway’s victims would have been left in the dark.

“Without the death penalty, without him having fear of losing his own life, we would not know what happened,” Graham said Monday. “ … He was only going to be charged with eight of those murders. He did not want to die. It was only because of that that the community got the answers as far as what happened, and we family members were able to find out what happened.”

At the same time, supporters of abolishing the death penalty argue if someone like Ridgway can bargain his way out of a death sentence after killing dozens of women and another person is sentenced to death for killing one person, it proves capital punishment is unfairly handed out.

Bill to abolish Washington death penalty moves forward in Olympia

Graham led a successful effort against this bill in the House last session and is preparing to do it again.

“And I am putting out a call to action to all victim’s families or even just concerned citizens,” Graham said. “I need help fighting this.”

Graham encouraged anyone wanting to fight the bill abolishing the death penalty in Washington to reach out to the Legislature.

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