Gov. Jay Inslee is calling a moratorium on executions while he is governor.
“Equal justice under the law is the state’s primary responsibility,” Inslee said during a news conference Tuesday morning. “And in death penalty cases, I’m not convinced equal justice is being served.”
Inslee said there was “too much at stake” in death penalty cases in what he termed an “imperfect system.”
“During my term we will not be executing people,” Inslee said.
Inslee cited the high cost of trials and appeals, the apparent randomness that death penalties are pursued and concerns that executions do not deter crime as reasons for his decision. Inslee said he is not asking the state Legislature to abolish the death penalty. He also cited the high cost of death-penalty cases, which he said are more expensive than sending some to prison for life.
“As governor, it is on my shoulders to come up with a decision for our whole state,” Inslee said. “I have made a decision. It is not an easy one.”
There are currently nine men on Washington’s death row.
“I think this is a relatively restrained use of the executive power,” Inslee said. “The citizens of the state of Washington can be assured the men of death row will be in prison for as long as they live.”
He said that if a death penalty case crosses his desk for action, he will issue a reprieve. Inslee said he is not commuting any death sentences.
According to the state Attorney General’s website, “Under RCW 10.01.120, the Governor has the authority to commute a death sentence to life in prison at hard labor and, upon a petition from the offender, to pardon the offender. A commutation is generally defined as a lessening of the criminal penalty, whereas a pardon is often defined as the termination of the criminal penalty.”
The Attorney General’s Office also said that the governor “has the power to issue a reprieve (also called a stay of execution or a “respite”) to temporarily delay the imposition of a death sentence. A reprieve is to be issued “for good cause shown, and as the Governor thinks proper.”
Two men from King County are on death row:
• Dayva Cross, who murdered his wife Anouchka Baldwin, 37, and stepdaughters Amanda Baldwin, 15, and Salome Holle, 18, on March 6, 1999, in Snoqualmie;
• Conner Schierman, who murdered neighbors Olga Milkin, 28; her sons Justin, 5, and Andrew, 3; and her sister, Lyubov Botvina, 24, on July 16, 2006, in Kirkland.
In one potential King County death penalty case, costs are now nearing the $ 7 million mark in the prosecution of Joseph McEnroe and Michele Anderson, who are accused of killing six members of Anderson’s family on Christmas Eve 2007 in Carnation.
Cal Coburn Brown was the last person executed in the state. Brown died by lethal injection in September 2010 for the 1991 murder of Holly Washa in SeaTac.
Jonathan Lee Gentry, sentenced for the 1988 murder of 12-year-old Cassie Holden in Kitsap County, is expected to be the next inmate up for execution. Last month, the state Supreme Court rejected a petition for release filed by Gentry’s defense team. Gentry just filed another appeal, based on DNA testing.
A source said Inslee spoke with Holden’s father last night.
Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center in Washington, D.C., said Inslee would not be the first governor in the nation to oppose the death penalty.
Last year, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper granted a reprieve to an inmate who killed four people at a Chuck E. Cheese’s restaurant in 1993 after finding the state’s death penalty system to be “imperfect and inherently inequitable,” according to The Denver Post. Dieter said the move means that the inmate won’t be executed while Hickenlooper is governor.
“Death sentences are down. Executions are down. Six states in the last six years have repealed the death penalty,” Dieter said this morning. According to the DPIC, seven states have an effective moratorium on executions.
Inslee’s actions recall those of then-Illinois Gov. George Ryan, who first imposed a moratorium on executions in 2000. He then emptied death row in 2003.
When Ryan called for the moratorium, Illinois had executed 12 death row inmates since 1977. The sentences of 13 others had been overturned. In some of those 13 cases, evidence showed the suspects were innocent. In others, the trials were deemed unfair or confessions were found to be coerced by police.
Seattle Times staff reporter Andrew Garber contributed to this report, which includes information from The Associated Press.
Jennifer Sullivan: 206-464-8294 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @SeattleSullivan.