Governor Jay Inslee announced Tuesday that he is imposing a moratorium on carrying out the death penalty in Washington state.
The governor said it is clear to him that use of capital punishment is inconsistent and unequal, and it’s time to have a conversation about ensuring equal justice under the law. “Equal justice under the law is the state’s primary responsibility. And in death penalty cases, I’m not convinced equal justice is being served,” Governor Inslee said.
The decision came after months of research on current cases, discussions with prosecutors, law enforcement officials, and family members of homicide victims, and a tour of death row and the execution chambers at Walla Walla State Penitentiary. The moratorium does not commute the sentences of the nine men on Washington's death row or issue any pardons. Instead, the governor will grant reprieves so no one will be executed.
The majority of Washington’s death sentences are overturned and those convicted of capital offenses are rarely executed, indicating questionable sentencing in many cases, according to the governor's office. Since 1981, the year Washington state’s current capital laws were put in place, 32 defendants have been sentenced to die. Of those, 18 had their sentences converted to life in prison and one was set free.
“I want to acknowledge that there are many good protections built into Washington state’s death penalty law. But there have been too many doubts raised about capital punishment,” Governor Inslee said. “There are too many flaws in the system. And when the ultimate decision is death there is too much at stake to accept an imperfect system.”
Last year, Maryland abolished the death penalty, the eighteenth state to do so and the sixth in the last six years. “With my action today I expect Washington state will join a growing national conversation about capital punishment," the governor said. "I welcome that and I’m confident that our citizens will engage in this very important debate.”