WA Rep: Repealing the death penalty ‘is a cowardly act’

Apr 11, 2023, 1:29 PM | Updated: 2:12 pm

death penalty...

The execution chamber at the Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla. (Ted S. Warren/AP)

(Ted S. Warren/AP)

The Legislature has permanently repealed Washington’s death penalty in a housekeeping bill after it was ruled unconstitutional five years ago.

“Bill 5087, titled ‘Defects and Omissions,’ was to clear up technical language now considered obsolete,” Rep. Jenny Graham (R-WA 6) said on The Jason Rantz Show. “This is a cowardly act as far as I’m concerned. You know, from the sponsor down to the vote and the people that voted for this. They did this in the middle of the night.”

Housekeeping bill finds death penalty in WA unconstitutional

Graham attempted — through an amendment — to refer to the bill as a referendum so the public could vote on it, but it was quickly rejected by the Democratic majority in the House.

“In 1975, after the death penalty was repealed, the people decided they were not happy with that,” Graham stated. “So the people fought for the death penalty as self-defense for society. When we’re talking, especially if we’re talking about persistent offenders, leaving dead people in their wake.”

The decision to rule the law as unconstitutional was not based on its morality but on how it was applied unequally.

“Its been argued that this disproportionately affected individuals of color, although I will point out that the math for what they’re saying, with the figures that are indisputable, just doesn’t add up,” Graham said. “78 people have been punished with the death penalty from 1904 to 2010. Their races were Caucasian, 66, Black, 7, Asian, 2, Hispanic, 1, Eskimo, 1.”

“It’s a lazy talking point, a bumper sticker argument,” Rantz added.

Washington’s Supreme Court struck down the death penalty unanimously — ruling it unconstitutional — in 2018, with the court claiming it is “invalid because it is imposed in an arbitrary and racially biased manner.”

But Rep. Jim Walsh (R-WA 19) noted during the debate on the House floor that the court’s 2018 State v. Gregory case stated that “none of these prior decisions held that the death penalty is per se unconstitutional, nor do we.”

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“I would also argue that we’ve literally had situations where people are convicted of murder, there’s no getting around it, they’ve admitted it, or there’s video, or there’s something,” Graham said. “And they get out, turn right around, and do it again. Or they go into prison because they’ve committed murder, and they murder somebody else in there. We’re talking about the death penalty being used as a form of self-defense and compassion for our community.”

Before the state Supreme Court struck down the death penalty, Governor Inslee issued a moratorium in 2014 on executions. The last execution carried out in Washington was in 2010, when Cal Coburn Brown was executed by lethal injection in Walla Walla after he confessed to the 1991 murder of 22-year-old Holly Washa.

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WA Rep: Repealing the death penalty ‘is a cowardly act’