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Relatives of murder victims oppose death penalty

Nancy Nelson protests in a fenced area outside the Washington State Penitentiary on Sept. 9, 2010, in Walla Walla before Cal Coburn Brown was scheduled to be executed. (AP Photo)

Relatives of murder victims in Washington hope their voices carry some extra weight in the debate over the death penalty.

Retiring State Senator Debbie Regala, D-Tacoma, was among a group of death penalty critics speaking out in Olympia Thursday. The six-term state lawmaker has a personal story to share.

“In 1980, my brother-in-law was murdered and his body was dumped in a park in Seattle,” Regala told KIRO Radio. His killer was never prosecuted.

Still, she favors abolishing the death penalty. “We spend six to ten times as much money pursuing a death penalty as we would if we went for life without the possibility of parole,” claimed Regala.

“When we look at the high cost, the staggering amount of money that gets spent on this, that money could be so much better used in giving police officers better tools to prevent crime, tools for helping solve some of these cold cases.”

Other relatives of murder victims share Regala’s viewpoint, including Karil Klingbill, the sister of Candy Hemmig, a bank teller murdered by Mitchell Rupe in Olympia in 1981.

Those who support the death penalty often cite closure for victims as an argument for keeping the law. But death penalty appeals can last for 10 years or longer.

“That prolonged process means that there is no closure for a long period of time and for many people, it re-opens the wound over and over and over again,” Regala countered.

Washington is among 33 states, as well as the military and the federal government, that allow the death penalty.

Legislative opponents plan to re-introduce a measure in Olympia next session to abolish the death penalty and they are planning a rally on the steps of the Capitol building in January.

KIRO Radio host Dave Ross said he appreciates hearing from people like Regala. It’s a different perspective that isn’t always considered. It stops him from wanting to totally abolish the death penalty.

Dave says he knows it’s hard for family members to relive the horror every time there’s an appeal, but he suggests setting limits and not dragging out the process might be a solution.

One benefit of the death penalty is it gives prosecutors a bargaining chip. They cut a deal with the Green River Killer, Gary Ridgway, to avoid trial and he plead guilty. He would have been up for the death penalty, but those trials never happened and the victims got closure. He’s not on death row, but in prison in Walla Walla for the rest of his life.

However, Regala doesn’t believe it’s appropriate to use it as a bargaining tool.

“We have people like Gary Ridgway who committed multiple multiple murders and they have life without the possibility of parole. And someone who committed one murder is on death row and may be executed.”

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