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Attorney General proposes bipartisan bill to end Washington’s death penalty

Attorney General Bob Ferguson proposed bipartisan legislation Monday to abolish the death penalty in Washington.

Ferguson, joined by former Attorney General Rob McKenna and Gov. Jay Inslee, held a press conference in the Capitol announcing the proposal.

“There is no role for capital punishment in a fair, equitable and humane justice system,” Ferguson said in a press release. “The Legislature has evaded a vote on the death penalty for years. The public deserves to know where their representatives stand.”

“The current system is not working,” McKenna said. “There is too much delay, cost and uncertainty around the death penalty, which is why I stand today with Attorney General Ferguson and this bipartisan group of legislators in support of this change.”

Related: Gov. Jay Inslee has become de-facto ally of death-row inmates

Ferguson articulated some of the many reasons for opposition to the death penalty, including:

• Moral opposition to the state taking lives in the people’s name
• The possibility of executing an innocent person in our imperfect system
• The increased cost of seeking death sentences versus life in prison – over $1 million on average in Washington state
• The concentration of capital cases in the counties with the most resources to pursue them
• The ineffectiveness of the death penalty as a deterrent.

Sen. Mark Miloscia, R-Federal Way (30th District), is sponsoring the Attorney General-request legislation in the Senate. Rep. Tina Orwall, D-Des Moines (33rd District), will introduce the companion House bill.

Several legislators from both political parties joined Ferguson, McKenna and Inslee at the press conference.

“The public is slowly changing on the death penalty. I think now is the time to sit down and have a real conversation on how we administer justice in this state,” Sen. Miloscia said.

“We recognize that the death penalty is a painfully difficult and profoundly serious public issue,” said Sen. Reuven Carlyle, D-Seattle (36th District). “With heavy consideration, we believe the time has come to end this practice in Washington and ask that our colleagues in the Legislature join us in making our criminal justice system reflect our deepest held values.”

In February of 2014, Gov. Jay Inslee imposed a moratorium on executions in the State of Washington, finding that executions in the state are “unequally applied” and “sometimes dependent on the size of the county’s budget.” The governor did not propose legislation to abolish the state’s death penalty, but his moratorium has remained in place since.

There have been 78 inmates, all men, put to death in Washington state since 1904. The last execution in the state came in September 2010, when Cal Coburn Brown was put to death by lethal injection for the 1991 murder of a Seattle-area woman. After spending nearly 17 years on death row, he was the first Washington inmate executed since 2001.

The death penalty is currently authorized by the federal government and 31 states, including Washington and Oregon, which also currently has a moratorium in place. Pennsylvania and Colorado also have death-penalty moratoriums.

Ferguson’s bill is expected to go to the Senate Law and Justice Committee and the House Judiciary Committee.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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