Washington state ends 'racially biased' death penalty

Sergio Conner
October 12, 2018

An inmate's view of the interior of the lethal injection facility.

The state Supreme Court on Thursday ruled that the death penalty violates Washington's Constitution because it is imposed in an arbitrary and racially biased manner.

The ruling Thursday makes Washington the latest state to do away with capital punishment.

Following the supreme court ruling, Inslee released a statement calling the ruling a "hugely important moment" in the pursuit of "equal and fair application of justice".

The court ruled 9-0 to strike down the death penalty. Governor Inslee has long opposed capital punishment in Washington state, and has controversially halted executions while in office. He placed a moratorium on the punishment in 2014 arguing that it is inconsistent and unequal.

"This decision can not be appealed to the United States Supreme court this is a final decision by our State Supreme court", Attorney General Bob Ferguson said.

"The fight over the death penalty was whether we could hasten the date of their death or not".

Attorney General Bob Ferguson has said that he plans to ask the Legislature to move next session to take the death penalty law off the books, something Inslee said he'd sign.

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The Washington court analyzed use of the death penalty in the state over the decades and found that it was imposed in an "arbitrary and capricious manner" with racial bias built into the system. The state's corrections division says that there are eight people now on death row.

Convicted June 26, 1991 of fatally bludgeoning Cassie Holden, 12, on June 13, 1988 in Kitsap County.

O'Bert's aunt Jane Hungerford was murdered by Cecil Davis in 1996, who received a life sentence without possibility of parole, but was sentenced to death row for another killing.

Convicted April 12, 2010 of four counts of aggravated first degree murder in the deaths of Olga Milkin, 28; her sons Justin, 5, and Andrew, 3; and her sister, Lyubov Botvina, 24, July 16, 2006 in King County. "What is rare is the Supreme Court's willingness to call out the truth that has always been there". The original charge was upheld in a retrial and the death sentence was reissued on June 13, 2012.

Byron Eugene Scherf, for the murder of a correctional officer on January 29, 2011, inside the state prison at Monroe. After a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 1974 put the death penalty on hold nationally, Washington voters passed a state capital punishment law in 1975 by more than 2-to-1. On death row for 21 years. Lawyers for Gregory said the death penalty was arbitrarily applied in contravention of the constitution.

"While this particular case provides an opportunity to specifically address racial disproportionality, the underlying issues that underpin our holding are rooted in the arbitrary manner in which the death penalty is generally administered".

"The death penalty should be rarely used, but I do think it should be an option in the most heinous cases", he said.

"There is nothing unique about the role racism played in Washington's death penalty", said Jeff Robinson, the deputy legal director and director of the Trone Center for Justice at the ACLU.

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