Washington State Lawmakers Optimistic About Abolishing The Death Penalty

Credit: Logan Anderson

Do you think the government should have the right to place a hand in dictating morality by applying the punishment of death to someone who commits a crime? If you answered no, you might like the way Washington state might be heading.

In Washington, lawmakers across both sides of the aisle are optimistic that 2018 will be the year that the death penalty is put to rest in the Evergreen State. In 2014, Governor Jay Inslee placed a moratorium on capital punishment, which would last for as long as he was in office. As of January 17th, 2018, lethal injection is legal in the state, unless the inmate would prefer to be hanged. Anyone found guilty of aggravated first-degree murder can be put to death, and 78 people have been executed in Washington since 1904.

The page about capital punishment on Washington’s government website even goes out of its way to divide those who have been executed by ethnicity. Since 1904, 66 whites, 7 blacks, 2 Asians, 2 Hispanics, and 1 Eskimo have been executed.

The latest bill in the state legislature would replace the death penalty with life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. Democratic state Senator Jamie Pedersen of Seattle, the new chair on the committee overseeing the bill, expects the current push to abolish the death penalty to make it straight through the Senate and straight to the Governor’s desk, which would be the farthest any bill of similar nature would have made it in the last five years. Pedersen is among the optimistic lawmakers saying that, “The stars may be aligning now for support of doing away with the death penalty.”

The Evergreen State hasn’t seen an execution since 2010, when Cal Coburn Brown was convicted for the 1991 rape and murder of 21-year-old Holly Washa and was put to death by lethal injection. The old chairman of the committee currently overseeing the bill, Pedersen’s predecessor, Republican state Senator Mike Padden of Spokane Valley was an outspoken advocate for the death penalty remaining the law of the state. Some even place blame on Padden for the stalled progress of the abolition of the death penalty, as he would not grant past death-penalty bills a hearing.

“I don’t anticipate I’ll be supporting the bill,” Padden said last week. “Some crimes are so heinous and so brutal that I think the death penalty is appropriate.”

Padden pointed out that the current laws on capital punishment have been used as a negotiating tool against some of the state’s most egregious offenders. Among those offenders are serial killer Gary Ridgway, who is known as the “Green River Killer,” who agreed to tell prosecutors the whereabouts of victims in exchange for the death penalty being taken off the table.

Washington state’s prosecutors are split on the death penalty. Pierce County prosecuting attorney, Mark Lindquist, said that, “The death penalty is a question with profound moral implications, certainly worthy of wide discussion,” and made it clear that, “[The] discussion should not be limited to legislative debate in Olympia, but instead should be the subject of civic dialogue around the entire state.”

The Executive Director of the Washington Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, Tom McBride, defended the death penalty. McBride told The News Tribune through email that, “The constitutionality and evenhanded imposition of the death penalty in Washington are issues that we will defend; but the costs, timely imposition and ultimate appropriateness of death for aggravated murder is certainly open to debate.”

According to the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, as of October 2015 the U.S. has executed over 1,414 individuals since 1976. Since 1973, 156 individuals have been exonerated from death row.

One of those cases happened in the Evergreen State in 1986. Benjamin Harris was convicted for the murder of Jimmie Lee Turner and sentenced to death, only to have the charges dropped on appeal 11 years later. An inadequate defense counsel may have led to Harris’ initial conviction.

A Seattle University study examining the costs of the death penalty in Washington found that each death penalty case cost an average of $1 million more than a similar case where the death penalty was not sought ($3.07 million, versus $2.01 million).

Before this article closes, a series of questions need to be asked. To reiterate the question asked at the beginning of this article, should the government place its hand into morality by dictating who lives or who dies?

Also, out of the 1,414 executed by 2015, how many of them were wrongfully convicted?

Is there any crime that an individual could commit that would be so heinous to the point where it is justifiable for the state to sentence them to death?

If we could be 100% certain about 100% of all legal convictions, would you reconsider your position on the death penalty?

Featured image: Logan Anderson

Logan Anderson is an Oregonian, political activist, political analyst, and YouTube content creator that has a passion in freedom and economics.

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