Washington State Supreme Court strikes down state’s death penalty

(STAFF REPORTS/Chewelah Independent)

Eight people on death row will have life sentences instead…

The state of Washington’s Supreme Court has struck down the state’s death penalty, making the unanimous decision on Thursday citing that the penalty has been used in an arbitrary and racially discriminatory manner, the Associated Press is reporting.

There has been a moratorium on executions in Washington since 2014, and this most recent ruling makes Washington the 20th state to do away with capital punishment. Eight people on death row right now will now have life sentences. 

The ruling came because of the case of Allen Eugene Gregory. Gregory, a black man, was convicted of raping, robbing and murdering 43-year-old Geneine Harshfield, a 43-year-old woman, in 1996. Gregory’s lawyers contended that the death penalty was arbitrarily applied and not proportionally as the Washington State Constitution requires.Defense lawyers have long criticized the death penalty pointing out that the state’s worst mass murderers and serial killers have received life sentences and not death.

The AP reported that several state judges urged the Supreme Court to strike down capital punishment in the state.

Washington Governor Jay Inselee, who was a one-time support of capital punishment, released this statement:

“Today’s decision by the state Supreme Court thankfully ends the death penalty in Washington,” Inslee said. “The court makes it perfectly clear that capital punishment in our state has been imposed in an ‘arbitrary and racially biased manner,’ is ‘unequally applied’ and serves no criminal justice goal. This is a hugely important moment in our pursuit for equal and fair application of justice.”

In 2014, Inslee declared a moratorium on the death penalty in Washington state saying at the time it was clear to him that use of capital punishment is inconsistent and unequal.

Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson released the following statement on the state Supreme Court’s decision today in State v. Gregory, ruling that the state’s death penalty is unconstitutional:

“Washington’s Supreme Court issued an important decision today. The court recognized that Washington state’s death penalty is broken. We should act quickly to remove the death penalty from state law once and for all.  Next session, I will again propose legislation repealing the death penalty, replacing it with life in prison without the possibility of parole.”

Ferguson first proposed bipartisan legislation in 2017 to abolish the death penalty in Washington state.

The state’s decision did not rule out the possibility that the Legislature could come up with another type of death sentences.

The Washington State Senate passed a measure abolishing the death penalty earlier this year, but it failed to pass the state house.

The last time an execution was carried out in the state of Washington was 2010.